This month’s “Ordinary People” entry involves the unlikely duo of David Downs, a middle-class home owner from Levittown, Pennsylvania; and Sean Hagins, a crack dealer from Trenton, New Jersey. Downs had a nasty crack habit, and when Hagins saw him roll up for a purchase one day in a pick-up adorned with Pennsylvania tags and an NRA bumper sticker, he had an idea. As an ex-felon prevented from buying firearms, he wanted to know if Downs would be willing to buy guns for him in Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, handguns can be bought at a gun store in a matter of minutes. In New Jersey, the process can take weeks, even months. It was a match made in heaven-or hell, depending upon your perspective.
After the deal was struck, Downs, a concealed carry permit holder, bought scores of guns over the counter at established gun stores in Pennsylvania, easily passing the required computerized background checks. He failed to note that he was addicted to a controlled substance on the required sales form (which would have prohibited him under federal law from buying guns), but nothing came up in his criminal record and no one questioned him about it. These guns later ended up on crime scenes across Trenton. The owner of one of the stores that sold Downs the guns, commenting on the instant background check system that screens gun buyers, stated, Maybe there should be a little more than that.
At CSGV, we certainly agree. In New Jersey and certain other states, those purchasing handguns must obtain a permit through the police. This process involves fingerprinting and a background investigation by law enforcement. Such a process could have turned up evidence of Downs drug addiction. Given the flaws in our background check system (many disqualifying records have yet to be transmitted to the federal database), tighter screening makes a lot of sense and is the best way to catch questionable-and sadly, commonplace-activity that might fall through the cracks of a computer check.