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Maine federal prosecutor targets straw purchases to slow gun trafficking

Maine is a top 15 source of crime guns for several northeastern states, according to 2020 gun...
Maine is a top 15 source of crime guns for several northeastern states, according to 2020 gun trace data published by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.(WABI)
Published: Jun. 14, 2022 at 8:31 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Maine (WMTW) - Maine’s top federal law enforcement official, U.S. Attorney Darcie McElwee, is trying to curb the state’s record as a significant source of guns used to commit crimes in other states.

“As U.S. Attorney, I don’t want guns leaving our state that are being used in crimes elsewhere,” McElwee said in an interview. “Individuals should know that our office regularly prosecutes people who purchase guns for other people, and in particular if someone were to buy one for a minor.”

Gun trafficking often begins with a straw purchase, when someone prohibited from buying guns, usually due to a criminal record, gets someone else to buy guns for them.

Maine is a top 15 source of crime guns for several northeastern states, according to 2020 gun trace data published by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.

The top five states where Maine-purchased guns end up are Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Massachusetts saw the most Maine guns, 127, or 7% of the state’s crime gun recoveries that year.

McElwee said the flip side of gun trafficking is often drug trafficking.

“Individuals would come to Maine for guns and leave us their drugs and go back,” said McElwee, who has been a prosecutor for 20 years. “It almost to a person involves a family member or a girlfriend or a wife purchasing a firearm for someone who can’t have it, who either is a drug trafficker or in some sad instances someone who is involved in trafficking them sexually.”

One provision in the new, bipartisan gun safety bill co-authored by Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins would toughen the penalties for straw purchases.

In an interview, Collins said, “What we’ve seen in Maine is gang members from Connecticut with criminal records, who can’t buy firearms because of their criminal record, coming to Maine and preying on people who are addicted, and they will get a person with an addiction but no record to go buy guns, and then they do a swap of heroin for guns.”

In a recent example of gun and opioid trafficking along the I-95 pipeline, a Massachusetts man last month was sentenced to seven years in prison after being caught receiving two pistols from a straw purchaser in Androscoggin County while stashing fentanyl for sale in Bangor.

In January, a Lewiston man was sentenced to three months in prison for purchasing guns for other people from licensed dealers in Levant and Houlton and lying about it on the background check form.

McElwee said the illegal trafficking runs in and out of Maine.

“We were responsible for 7% of Massachusetts gun recoveries at crime scenes. They were responsible for 20% of ours. So, that means that both their guns and their drugs are coming to our state,” McElwee said. “20% of our crime guns are coming from Massachusetts.”

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