(Gun violence Part 1)
Every year, the NorthShore Community Alliance serves nearly 200 families who have been impacted by gun violence. This number paints a much greater picture of the devastation caused by gun violence and its ripple effect than the lesser number of the 53 African-Americans who were shot and killed last year.
“Gun violence is probably the number one issue for the families we serve. It’s hush-hush until it happens to your family,” said NCA Executive Director Carol Washington. “We deal with the shooter’s family and the victim’s family. It destroys the very fabric of a family.”
To address the most prevalent issue impacting the people she serves, Washington hosted a seminar on gun violence sponsored by the Northside Peace Network. Led by Joe Bielevicz, a detective with the firearms tracking unit, the seminar explored the sources of illegal firearms and the firearm tracing process.
“We live in a country where a lot of people treasure that right (to bear arms). I work in the framework of, guns are there, let’s just deal with it. But how can we make sure people aren’t getting killed,” Bielevicz said. “When we have 50 percent of our guns being stolen because of improper storage, that should be front and center on (the National Rifle Association’s) website.”
Despite those in the Black community who believe firearms dealers are bringing guns into their neighborhoods illegally, Bielevicz said the majority of guns used in Pittsburgh crimes are the product of theft or straw purchasing and organized trafficking is not an issue. For this reason he takes aim at the NRA and legislators who he believes should be doing more to ensure guns don’t fall into the wrong hands.
“We have virtually no laws to govern gun dealers and how they store their guns. There’s an unbelievable amount of guns out in the street just from gun dealers,” Bielevicz said. “In this day and age, there’s also no reason these gun dealers shouldn’t have their information computerized.”
Bielevicz said tracing problems arise because of poor record keeping by gun dealers, even though according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, 330,000 recovered guns were stolen from gun dealers. According to multiple surveys on gun ownership, 500,000 guns are stolen every year.
“And that leads us to what should legislators do? And why I think the lost and stolen gun law is important is it’s the first step to indentifying a straw purchaser,” Bielevicz said. “I’ve had people say, ‘I went to the gun show, brought my guns home, put them away and that night they were stolen.’ And nothing else was taken. That could be a red flag.”
Straw purchasing is defined as buying a firearm on behalf of another person who is usually a felon or other prohibited person. In 2008, Pittsburgh government passed legislation requiring gun owners to report their guns lost or stolen, in an effort to curb straw purchasers who report their gun stolen only after it has been used in a crime and traced back to them.
“I talked to a guy last week who’s been an addict for 10 years. He recently purchased two guns and he said every drug dealer he meets asks him to buy a gun. If somebody straw purchases a gun, it’s likely it won’t be recovered until years later. After so many years, it’s difficult to prove it was a straw purchase,” Bielevicz said “There’s a law saying if you sell a gun or transfer a gun, knowing it’s going to be used in a crime, you’re responsible. But very rarely can we prove that.”
Even though straw purchasing can be hard to prove, Bielevicz said he would like to see mandatory sentencing of six months for straw purchasers. Prosecuting a straw purchaser whose gun has been used in a Pittsburgh homicide is made all the more difficult because there are no gun stores within the city.
“If somebody goes into a gun store and lies on the form, I can’t prosecute him because there are no guns stores in Pittsburgh,” Bielevicz said. “It becomes a problem, particularly in West Mifflin because they have two large gun distributors. But the police in West Mifflin, they’re recovering guns that were sold in Braddock.”
Bielevicz said he would also like to see legislators close the “gun show loophole,” which provides a dense market for criminal buyers and unscrupulous sellers. He also opposes laws in 33 states—not Pennsylvania—where guns can be purchased privately without paperwork. These kinds of “gun control” are opposed by the NRA.
“I go to the gun show and I see people I’ve arrested who I know are felons. The dirty little secret is the NRA has become the advocate for gun manufacturers. The problem I have with it is people are dying as a result,” Bielevicz said. “I think if you look at what they’re really about, what they’re pushing for, it’s outrageous. They’re pushing for people to be able to leave their guns in their cars, unattended. They’re a very good lobbying organization, just like those for oil.”
(To contribute to ongoing coverage of illegal gun trafficking, contact Rebecca Nuttall at firstname.lastname@example.org).
In the May 9 article “Police: Organized gun trafficking not the issue,” the quote “When we have 50 percent of our guns being stolen because of improper storage, that should be front and center on (the National Rifle Association’s) website.” was in reference to Detective Joe Bielevicz’s experience with guns recovered in crimes. Additionally, in reference to the sentence “Bielevicz said tracing problems arise because of poor record keeping by gun dealers, even though according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, 330,000 recovered guns were stolen from gun dealers,” the number of 333,000 guns comes from a database of guns listed as lost or stolen from gun dealers, which have not been recovered, and this information was obtained by Bielevicz from multiple public websites. The sentence “Bielevicz would like to see mandatory sentencing of six months for straw purchasers,” should read, “of at least six months.”