SPRING LAKE: ATF investigators focus efforts on gun traffic - WNCT

ATF investigators focus efforts on Cumberland Co. gun trafficking

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SPRING LAKE, N.C. -

The Carolinas district of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is taking a new approach to catch gun traffickers, and they're starting in Cumberland County.

ATF Spokesman Earl Woodham said the agency is saturating the county with more than a dozen investigators during a two-week period. It is a surge of resources during which time investigators will stop at a specific type of gun dealership – those that are operated along with pawn shops.

It is different than the norm when ATF investigators examine gun dealers' records on a rotating basis every few years. During the surge, the investigators are looking through records at all of those gun dealer pawn shops, trying to find anyone who is abusing the law by buying guns for someone else.

Those buyers are called "straw purchasers" because they legally buy guns specifically to give or sell them to someone else who cannot legally buy a gun or wants to keep his/her name out of records because of criminal intent.

"Our target on this whole thing is not the gun dealers whatsoever. It's the people who will use and abuse that gun dealer and his product to further their criminal activity or make money by trafficking illegal firearms up the I-95 corridor," Woodham said. "Our final goal is to identify anyone who may be involved in the illegal trafficking of firearms to other states, identify them, prove our case, prosecute them and put them in federal prison."

Mark Thomas at Guns Plus in Spring Lake said he has no problems with the surge. However, he feels North Carolina already does a good job of cutting down on straw purchasers. He pointed out that to buy a gun in North Carolina a person has to be a resident and get a clearance to purchase a gun through a local sheriff's office. Thomas believes most illegal guns from North Carolina that are found in other states are mostly stolen, not bought legally by straw purchasers. He believes it is unfair to characterize North Carolina as a "source" state for black market guns in other states.

"The surge is a good thing, but the ATF has been so prevalent in this area in the last few years I don't think they're going to catch anything necessarily that they haven't seen in the past years," Thomas said.

Woodham said however the guns get to other states, it is a concern, and the surge is at least one effort to cut down on the gun trafficking. He said the ATF plans to do more surges in other areas of the Carolinas in the coming months.

Brandon Herring

Brandon is a North Carolina native and UNC alum who lives in Fayetteville, and covers Cumberland County and the Sandhills. Returning to North Carolina to work as a journalist is a dream come true for Brandon. More>>

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