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Following the Gun: Every Stop Is Life Or Death For LEOs

Following the Gun: Every Stop Is Life Or Death For LEOs

The casket of Phoenix Police Officer Sgt. Sean Drenth, who died in the line of duty, is brought in for his funeral Monday, Oct. 25, 2010, in Phoenix. [AP Photo]

Washington Post via YellowBrix

November 22, 2010

WASHINGTON – The compact stainless-steel .45-caliber pistol was forged in a factory in Brazil in the summer of 2006 – 4,700 miles and two years away from a fateful encounter on a narrow North Philadelphia street near Temple University.

The gun, a 10-shot Taurus Model PT 145 Millennium Pro, was shipped from Porto Alegre to Miami, and then to a wholesale firearms distributor in South Carolina before arriving at a pawnshop about 80 miles away in rural Lancaster. From there, the $250 firearm began a 680-day odyssey through at least four states, four owners and two crime scenes before ending up in the hands of a 27-year-old parolee who used it to kill police officer Patrick McDonald.

As part of an investigation of the deaths of 511 police officers killed by firearms since 2000, The Washington Post took an in-depth look at the circuitous paths taken by two guns. One is the Taurus. The other is a .380-caliber FEG semiautomatic pistol used in the slaying of an Indiana state trooper.

Both are handguns – the weapon most often used to kill police officers in the past decade. And both deaths occurred after traffic stops, the situation in which officers most often lose their lives.

The two guns were initially sold by federally licensed firearms dealers, the Taurus at the South Carolina pawnshop, the .380 at a high-volume gun store outside Chicago. At least three guns sold at the Chicago area store, Chuck’s Gun Shop, turned up in fatal shootings of police, the most of any store in The Post’s review.

The .380’s sale involved a “straw purchaser,” a person who buys a gun on behalf of someone else and falsely claims to be the intended owner. The Taurus’s sale looked like a straw purchase, with the man who first bought the gun quickly selling it to a felon for a $150 profit.

Even when guns wind up being used to shoot police officers – crimes that receive intense attention from investigators and prosecutors – straw purchasers escape punishment more often than not. The Post review looked at 16 straw purchasers who bought guns later used to kill police officers. Seven were prosecuted.

“Straw purchasers are the biggest problem in any state,” said Lt. Vince Testa of the Philadelphia Police Department’s firearms- identification unit. “That just puts more guns on the street and, unfortunately, kills police officers.”

The two cases show the unpredictable paths taken by guns, moving from hand to hand into the grasp of criminals, falling off the radar and reappearing with sudden, fatal violence.

In one case, a 19-year-old felon acquires a handgun casually, as payment for a bet on a game of basketball, tucks it into his pants and later uses it to kill an Indiana trooper. In the other, a fugitive from a Philadelphia halfway house tries to escape from a pursuing officer and pulls the gun as they fight on the street. Both stories illustrate how firearms dramatically increase the danger in already tense situations, creating irrevocable outcomes from panicky decisions.

“I even talked to him about chasing bad guys down an alley when he knew they were armed, but he was absolutely fearless,” Larry McDonald, father of the slain Philadelphia officer, said in an interview with The Post on March 31, a week before he died of a heart attack. "He said, ‘Dad, I can’t worry about that.’ "

The .45-caliber Taurus semiautomatic pistol arrived at the Lancaster Pawn Shop in South Carolina on Nov. 9, 2006. Four days later, Jason Mack, 27, a self-described country boy fascinated by firearms, bought it for $250. At the same time, he purchased a smaller gun, a Kel-Tec P-3 .380-caliber pistol that Mack called a “pocket rocket.”

Mack lied on the required federal paperwork, answering no to a question about whether he used illegal drugs. In fact, Mack, who worked as a laborer for a masonry business, later testified that he had smoked marijuana every day since he was 13. But he had no criminal record, and the required background check did not prevent him from buying a gun.

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  • Car6_max50

    Ahi

    over 2 years ago

    1990 Comments

    Rest In Peace Officers!

  • Snoopy_6_max50

    Jonas

    over 3 years ago

    41144 Comments

    Rest In Peace Officer McDonald and Trooper Patrick.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    triztru

    over 3 years ago

    44 Comments

    RIP. We have to be able to start cracking down on societies scum, and not let them have the 'slap on the wrist justice' anymore!

  • White_bloody_bun_max50

    crashonhead

    over 3 years ago

    12 Comments

    RIP Ofc. McDonald and Trooper Patrick.

    More gun grabbing pap - Americans for Gun Safety Foundation is an organization which actively promoted gun control; they're now defunct. Note the NRA or the Second Amendment Foundation is not quoted in the article.

    Anyone who has worked the streets knows this fundamental truth: criminals will ALWAYS be able to get guns, regardless of how many laws they violate to accomplish this.

    The only thing missing is the interview with the guns. A tearful narrative of how the poor thing was bought and sold like so much chattel, hoping against all hope it would end up with a 'good' owner.

  • Rpd5_max50

    Rabbi1167

    over 3 years ago

    168 Comments

    I believe that it is intellectually dishonest to blame inanimate objects for the criminal intent of the user. Let's place the blame where it belongs -- on the individuals who choose to commit these horrific acts, not on the tools that they employ.

  • Pug_max600_max50

    DALLASCRANE

    over 3 years ago

    19386 Comments

    Trooper Scott Alan Patrick RIPB.

  • Crumb_passin_thru_02_1__max50

    mz66

    over 3 years ago

    3718 Comments

    @kweikman: no worries. thanks for your efforts.

  • Littlegirltongue_max50

    curedgirls

    over 3 years ago

    3622 Comments

    Patrick - you are so missed - Rest in Peace

  • Heores_max50

    kweikman

    over 3 years ago

    796 Comments

    @mz66 - I just can't win!

  • Crumb_passin_thru_02_1__max50

    mz66

    over 3 years ago

    3718 Comments

    @kweikman: There's been no change. It looks like the story is still truncated. Maybe PL's contract with the wire services is to blame. (shrug)

  • Tbl_max50

    cjbs2003

    over 3 years ago

    26 Comments

    They should increase the penalty for straw purchases of firearms to what ever the punishment for the crime done with the gun was should be put on the person who originally purchased the gun... So if you buy a gun then sell it to a felon, if that felon kills a cop, you are punished just like you had killed the cop.

  • Heores_max50

    kweikman

    over 3 years ago

    796 Comments

    Thanks for the heads up on that mz66. I think we've got it all now. Good eye!

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Anonymous

    over 3 years ago

    MAY HE NEVER SEE THE OUTSIDE OF PRISON, RIP BROTHER TROOPER

  • Crumb_passin_thru_02_1__max50

    mz66

    over 3 years ago

    3718 Comments

    The PL editors cut this story short by many many words. Here's the complete story--which follows the .380 through its sale for drug money for Vaughn and eventually to a 19-year-old (now 26) who is serving life without parole for the murder of the Indiana trooper:

    http://tinyurl.com/3afy4j9

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