The Gunrunner and the Peacemakers

Oakland's gun violence epidemic seems impossible to stop. But the story of a local firearms trafficker illustrates how laws that make it tougher to buy guns can help reduce violence.

On July 10, 2013, an armed carjacker kidnapped Rolando Lucas’ youngest child. It happened in the blink of an eye. Lucas had pulled into a gas station at the corner of High Street and Foothill Boulevard in East Oakland. He parked his Honda Odyssey minivan beside a pump and walked with his eleven-year-old son to the station’s store to pay. His wife, Modesta Ramirez, waited in the front passenger seat as his six-year-old son sat in the rear seat of the van. Lucas’ twenty-month-old boy was sleeping in a child seat secured in the minivan’s middle row. Lucas paid for the gas, and as his oldest son worked the pump, he got back into the driver’s seat.

Court records describe what happened next: A man flung the driver’s side door open. Lucas turned and found himself staring down the barrel of a semi-automatic pistol. The gunman was eighteen-year-old Adriell Williams. Williams ordered Lucas out of the van at gunpoint. Ramirez screamed and reached behind the seats to rescue her baby. But Williams quickly jumped into the driver’s seat, pushing her out of the vehicle with the butt of his gun. Lucas’ six-year-old son scrambled out of the back passenger door as Williams turned the ignition. Lucas frantically yanked on the back passenger door handle to reach his youngest child, but the van’s doors automatically locked when the engine started. The baby was trapped inside as Williams sped away.

Thirty minutes later, an Oakland police officer found the baby, still in his child passenger seat, which was sitting on a sidewalk three blocks away. A jacket was covering the kid. Surprisingly, he was asleep and unharmed.

The next evening, Jose Perez was sitting in his parked car on 70th Avenue in East Oakland. Something moving in the rearview mirror caught his eye. He looked back and saw a man approaching, menacingly, gripping a pistol. Before he could react, the gunman, identified later in court as Adriell Williams — the teen who carjacked Lucas’ family the day before — pointed the weapon at Perez’s temple and yanked him from the driver’s seat. Williams swung the butt of the gun down into Perez’s scalp. As Perez stumbled backward from the blow, Williams jumped in the car and drove away.

Three weeks later, Oakland police officers Joel Ruiz and Billy Matthews responded to a call concerning three men who appeared to be casing an East Oakland taco truck and preparing to rob it. The caller saw handguns tucked into their pants. When Ruiz and Matthews got to the 5800 block of Bancroft Avenue, they spotted Adriell Williams and his associates. And Williams spotted the cops. All three took off running.

“I immediately noticed that the subject matching the description provided by dispatch began to hold his right hand into his right vest pocket,” Ruiz later wrote in a police incident report. “It was consistent with him holding a firearm.” According to Ruiz’s narrative: “A second subject was also holding his front waistband as if he was trying to hold an object in place. This action is consistent with a person holding a firearm in place while running. He was later identified as Adriell Williams.”

Ruiz chased the men on foot. Matthews followed in their police cruiser. When they captured Williams several blocks away, they found a Glock handgun that Williams had hastily discarded in a yard nearby. Twelve rounds were in the clip and one in the chamber. Officer Matthews said he recognized Williams as a suspect in the carjackings from earlier that month. Williams later pleaded guilty.

In the context of a city with a high-crime rate like Oakland, the offenses committed by Williams were not unusual. In the same week, there were six other carjackings in addition to the two committed by Williams. There were also 49 total robberies at gunpoint and nine assaults in which a firearm was discharged. Oakland’s streets are saturated with guns, and gun violence is a regular occurrence. There were 2,737 robberies at gunpoint and 469 shootings in 2013. In 2014 and 2015, firearms crimes have remained stubbornly common.

The fact that Williams used a gun to carry out the carjackings and robberies was also unremarkable. But there was one aspect to Williams’ crime spree that is worthy of closer attention: The Glock .40-caliber pistol that police officers recovered when they arrested Williams had recently been trafficked from Nevada through Oakland’s underground weapons market.

An Oakland gun trafficker had purchased the Glock from a licensed dealer outside of Las Vegas, and then illegally smuggled the weapon to Oakland, before selling it to Williams just a few weeks before his arrest. And around the same time that Williams was casing taco trucks, stealing minivans, and pistol-whipping his victims, a joint investigation by federal agents and the Oakland Police Department was zeroing in on the source of dozens of firearms that were turning up in shootings, robberies, and mayhem across the Bay Area — including the gun that Williams used in his crime spree. And the guns all led back to one gunrunner.

The story of how these weapons ended up in Oakland provides a window into the East Bay’s underground market for “hot” guns that are used frequently in robberies, assaults, and murders. But it’s also a tale that illustrates how California’s uniquely strong firearms regulations not only helped nail the gunrunner whose weapon was used to kidnap Rolando Lucas’ twenty-month-old boy, but also have succeeded in making it harder for felons to get their hands on guns.

Williams’s handgun was one of an estimated ninety pistols illegally trafficked into California by Edward Purry. In 2012, Purry was a California state-licensed bodyguard with a firearms permit working mostly in Oakland and Las Vegas. He claimed to have once worked security detail for boxing champ Floyd Mayweather, but his usual gig was guarding high-stakes gamblers toting cash around Las Vegas. In Oakland, Purry would sometimes ride along with big shipments of marijuana being delivered to cannabis dispensaries. He eventually hit upon the idea of buying guns in Nevada and re-selling them in the East Bay for a steep profit. The scheme would net him as much as $100,000, but it would also land him in prison.

In July 2013, Purry made several trips to Las Vegas to go gun shopping, and he purchased firearms at ten different gun stores. According to government records, he bought Springfield Armory .45-caliber handguns, Glock pistols ranging from 9mm to .45 caliber in size, and even a Brazilian manufactured Taurus .45-caliber pistol. All the weapons he bought were very popular and powerful. He then illegally shipped them back to California and sold them on the streets of Oakland.

On August 8, 2013, Purry was in Nevada browsing cases of weaponry at the Las Vegas Gun Range & Firearms Center and at a gun shop called Urban Civil Defense. Purry bought two Glock .357-caliber pistols and two Glock .40-caliber pistols. As he did with his previous purchases, he packaged the guns in a cardboard box and drove to a US post office in Henderson, a suburb of Las Vegas. In the return address field, Purry scribbled what he told police later was the first name that had popped into his head: Kenny Clutch, the Oakland rapper who was famously and gruesomely killed during a drive-by shooting on the Las Vegas Strip in February 2013. Purry used a Las Vegas PO Box as the return address for his gun shipment. He mailed the box of six handguns to a friend’s apartment on 73rd Avenue in Oakland.

Investigators later determined that Purry shipped nearly one hundred pistols from Nevada to California this way before federal agents and Oakland police finally caught up to him.

The trail to Purry began on August 8, 2013, when US Postal Service Inspectors intercepted a shipment containing six Glocks (US attorney spokesperson Natalie Collins declined to say how the inspectors knew to target the shipment). The postal inspectors then informed ATF agents about what they had intercepted. Around the same time, one of the gun dealers who had sold guns to Purry in Las Vegas became suspicious of him and contacted the ATF, according to Michael Delvecchio, assistant special agent in charge of the agency’s San Francisco Field Division. The ATF then obtained surveillance video of Purry walking up to the counter of the Henderson post office with the box that the postal inspectors later intercepted. ATF agents contacted Oakland police Captain Ersie Joyner to try to understand where the guns were being shipped to. Joyner is 25-year veteran of OPD who had noticed expensive new guns turning up on the streets and had wondered about their origin. He worked with the feds to unravel the case.

In addition to the six handguns intercepted on August 8, 2013, the postal inspectors also intercepted ten 13-round magazines for .40-caliber and .357-caliber Glock semi-automatic pistols and one 22-round, .40-caliber magazine. California prohibits the importation and possession of gun magazines with a capacity greater than ten rounds. California also requires anyone transporting guns into the state to register them with the state attorney general. And Purry was selling the weapons on the street in undocumented sales, which is also a state crime. But the most pivotal crimes committed by Purry were federal: lying on federal dealer paperwork that he resided in Nevada in order to obtain nearly one hundred guns. On October 2, 2013, federal agents arrested Purry.

In an interrogation conducted by ATF agents Roger Martin and Ernesto Diaz, Purry admitted to making at least ten shipments of firearms from Las Vegas to Oakland, public records show. Purry told the agents he liked to fly to Las Vegas and play craps. He said that on some days, he bet upwards of $10,000 and won. Sometimes, he lost. He frequented the Sunset Station, an off-strip casino and hotel. And on each trip, Purry bought pistols, mostly .40- and .45-caliber Glocks, similar to what many police officers carry. After dropping boxes of guns off at the Henderson post office, Purry would board a plane and fly back to Oakland. In Oakland, he would pick up his arms shipments and begin marketing the guns at double their retail price.

At first, Purry told the agents questioning him that his sole customer was an impeccably dressed Mexican man named Pablo who had a “full Rick Ross beard” and drove a Mercedes CLS. “He always is looking suave,” said Purry during a recorded interrogation, “like he was going out, or he was going to a business meeting or something.” The skeptical agents asked Purry if Pablo was a member of a drug cartel. Purry said he had no idea. And he claimed his connection to Pablo came about by accident.

ATF agents then used the classic good-cop-bad-cop strategy to squeeze a confession out of Purry. Agents initially told him that if he provided information to get the guns off the streets, they would recommend that federal prosecutors in Nevada reduce the number of charges against him, shaving years off the time he was facing in prison. But Purry told the investigators that he assumed the pistols had been shipped by the mysterious Pablo to Mexico, and that he had no further information to give them. Sensing Purry was holding out, the feds ratcheted up the pressure.

“Here’s the concern I got,” Special Agent Diaz told Purry. “You may think the guns are going to Mexico, but guess what? They’re not.”

“They’re staying in Oakland,” said Special Agent Martin.

“They’re showing up in shootings in Oakland,” said Diaz. “And it’s on you. So you’d better come up with more information on Pablo, other than he buys everything and he’s about whatever.”

Purry tried to stick to his story.

“There’s already been one shooting,” pressed agent Martin, referring to an attempted robbery at a marijuana grow in the Fruitvale district.

“And they’re gonna come back to you,” said agent Diaz, raising his voice. “So you’d better think real hard right now about this Mr. Pablo and how the fuck we can find him to get these guns back! All right?”

Then the feds turned up the heat. Wesley Grinder, an ATF task force agent, entered the room and called Purry a liar. Grinder told Purry he would rot for decades in prison unless he gave them information that led to the recovery of the guns.

“The stuff you’re talking about is bullshit. It is complete bullshit,” Grinder said to Purry. ‘”‘Cause this, this Mexican guy,’ and that’s bullshit. Oh my gosh, that, brother, that’s complete bullshit, and you know it.”

Purry caved under the pressure. He confessed to selling boxes of pistols to a man named Ramon and guns to a different Pablo who lived down the street from his mother’s house in East Oakland. He admitted to selling guns to people he met in The Nacho Spot, a restaurant that used to operate out of a strip mall on 98th Avenue. Purry admitted to selling pistols to another man named Hal, and even to a random stranger in a restaurant one day. “I took the gun out, popped the bullets out,” Purry told the agents about the transaction. “Cha-chi. Here you go. Gave me the thousand dollars.” He claimed he sold another gun to a “white man” in the parking lot of a casino in Las Vegas. But Purry said he sold most of the guns in Oakland, mostly in street deals just off MacArthur Boulevard near the San Leandro border.

When they concluded the interrogation, the federal agents told Oakland police what they had learned, but according to OPD, most of Purry’s guns were still on the streets. “The ATF fed us information as timely as they got it,” Captain Joyner told me. “We followed up as fast as we could, but in the end, it just didn’t pan out.”

In November, Purry was convicted of lying on federal firearms purchase forms and was sentenced to eight and half years in prison. At least 23 of Purry’s guns have been recovered to date, mostly by Oakland police, but a few have turned up in San Francisco, San Leandro, Antioch, and as far away as Los Angeles, said Delvecchio.

In July 2013, an Oakland police officer took a .380 Jimenez Arms pistol off a man who was wanted in connection with the shooting of a two-year-old child. Investigators later traced the gun back to Purry. In May 2014, an Oakland cop wrestled an HS Products .45-caliber pistol out of a suspect’s hands before the man escaped on foot. Records revealed that Purry bought the gun on July 21, 2013 at the Las Vegas Gun Range & Firearms Center. In July 2014, Oakland cops responded to a call of shots fired at a sideshow. An armed man sprinted away from several officers and then dove through the open passenger window of another car as it sped away. But the car then crashed into a house. The man with the gun escaped on foot, but the police later recovered a .40-caliber Glock that they believe he had stashed behind a nearby fence. Investigators again traced the Glock back to Purry. In May of last year, several San Francisco cops recovered another Jimenez Arms .380 from a man who had fired the gun’s entire magazine into the front of a house occupied by his pregnant girlfriend. A child was injured by falling glass in the attack. That gun also traced back to Purry.

According to Captain Joyner, gun trafficking operations like the one Purry ran are a major source of the most dangerous weapons on Oakland’s streets. Other gunrunners employing less brazen strategies — for example, purchasing guns in private sales, or at gun shows and flea markets in other states, where no paperwork is required to trace the sale, and then driving them into California — are likely bringing in a far higher number of firearms into the East Bay each year.

In 2014, the ATF conducted traces on 34,890 firearms recovered by California cops. This total included seven of Purry’s guns that turned up in the Bay Area. According to the ATF’s trace data, most guns used to commit crimes in California were originally sold by an in-state dealer, but 29 percent were sold by dealers in other states — mainly Arizona and Nevada — and then brought into California, often illegally.

And a big number of guns recovered by California cops, and traced by the ATF, were fresh off the shelves of gun shops. One-quarter of traced guns in California ended up being used in a crime less than three years after they were purchased from a gun dealer, a sign that new firearms are a key source of weaponry for the underground market.

ATF’s Delvecchio said that gunrunners like Purry are responsible for bringing a significant number of firearms into cities like Oakland. In 2009, Delvecchio worked a very similar case: Jeffrey Moore, a 26-year-old man living in Canton, Georgia ran at least 65 guns, mostly pistols, into Oakland and Vallejo. The guns turned up quickly in violent crimes all over the Bay Area.

On first glance, the tens of thousands of crime guns recovered by cops each year in California might seem like a bottomless supply being diverted from the legal market into the underworld, and that little can be done to stop it. But the ATF’s data actually reveals just how hard it is for traffickers, straw buyers, and corrupt dealers to supply guns to those intent on committing a crime. Purry, for example, had to leave California in order to buy the types and quantity of guns he wanted. That’s because California’s firearms laws are better at preventing trafficking. California imposes a one-gun-per-month limit on purchases, and a mandatory ten-day waiting period. And California bans the types of gun magazines that Purry wanted to sell — those that can hold more than ten cartridges. Nevada, by contrast, allows people to buy an unlimited number of guns with no time restrictions and no waiting periods, and it doesn’t restrict magazine sizes. Purry successfully dodged California’s tougher gun laws to traffic nearly one hundred pistols into Oakland, but by crossing over into Nevada, he came onto the radar of federal investigators who shut him down. In fact, if he had sold the guns in Las Vegas — rather than Oakland — he might never have been caught.

Purry’s case, in other words, refutes the claim that gun control is ineffective. Skeptics often claim that if tougher gun laws worked, then cities like Oakland, or entire states like California, which have some of the most comprehensive firearms regulations, would have few instances of gun violence. But, of course, California and the city of Oakland are by no means free from gun violence. In fact, Oakland is plagued by it. Foes of more effective gun regulations turn this fact into folksy sayings like “if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns,” and “gun laws don’t work because criminals by definition don’t follow the law.” But in Purry’s case, California’s tough gun laws helped shut down his trafficking activities.

There’s also good reason to believe that California’s more stringent gun regulations are reducing gun violence, suicides, and accidents. According to Griffin Dix, co-chair of the Oakland chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, California is doing a better job at reducing gun violence than most other states because it has enacted proven regulations that make it very difficult for prohibited persons to get their hands on a gun.

Dix reached this conclusion after years of studying the ATF’s firearms-trace data. He has also examined gun-injury data from the federal Centers for Disease Control, which tracks homicides, suicides, and accidents involving firearms in all fifty states. “Every year, I do an update on California firearm mortality data,” Dix said in an interview. “I look at total mortality, including homicide and suicide rates in California, and I compare this with rest of the country.” According to Dix’s research, ever since the state began passing more effective gun regulations in the early 1990s, California has become safer, and malicious shootings and accidents have become less frequent than they otherwise would be.

According to data that Dix provided, California’s firearms mortality rate in 1990 was 15.5 out of every 100,000 people. But by 2015, California’s rate dropped to 7.5, a reduction of 52 percent. The rest of the United States hasn’t done as well. The firearms mortality rate for all other states, excluding California, actually started off lower in 1990, at 14 people out of every 100,000, but as of last year, the national rate had only dropped by 25 percent, to 10.7 people per 100,000. In other words, back in 1990, Californians were more likely to be fatally shot than residents of most other states. But today, Californians are much less likely to be killed by a gun.

Dix credits gun regulations like mandatory background checks for all gun sales and transfers, including those between private parties, a ten-day waiting period between the sale and transfer of a gun, one-gun-per-month purchase limits, and bans on so-called “junk guns,” among other laws, for causing California’s firearms mortality rate to drop faster than the national average.

“My research actually kind of understates the effect of California’s laws,” said Dix, noting that states with gun laws similar to those in California, like New York, actually push the national firearms mortality rate closer to that of California. “If I was to compare all the states with good gun laws against those that don’t do much to regulate firearms, I think you’d find that states that passed similar good gun laws pulled farther away from those that didn’t.”

Dix’s journey into the world of gun policy is deeply personal. In 1994, his fifteen-year-old son, Kenzo, was accidentally shot and killed at a friend’s house. “His friend decided to show him his father’s gun,” Dix recalled. The friend retrieved the firearm, ejected the magazine, and put an empty magazine in the pistol while Kenzo waited in another room. The friend had shot the Beretta pistol at the range with his father before and thought he knew how to disarm it. He came into the room and pulled the trigger thinking it would just go “click.” But there was still a bullet in the chamber, and the gun didn’t have a prominent chamber loaded indicator, a mechanism that firearms manufacturers and the NRA oppose. “If the gun had had a chamber loaded indicator, he would have known the bullet was still in the chamber,” said Dix. “That bullet killed my son.”

In 2003, Dix helped win passage of legislation requiring all new guns sold in California to have a built-in chamber loaded indicator — a law that has likely saved hundreds of lives.

Dix is a grieving parent on a mission, but he also came at the gun problem with the eyes of a social scientist, seeking root causes and practical ways to address them. “I was interested in cultural and social systems and how things work,” said Dix, an anthropologist who taught cultural anthropology at Santa Clara University before he retired. “That made me want to understand the whole system that led to my son’s death.” Dix readily admits that his research doesn’t use the most advanced statistical methods to control for other variables, and that in addition to California’s gun laws, there are other reasons that the firearms mortality rate has declined.

But researchers who have spent their careers using the best available data and methods have also found reason to believe that California’s firearms regulations are reducing the availability of guns to people who intend to commit crime. In 2014, Glenn Pierce, a research scientist at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University who has spent decades studying firearms violence and gun markets, examined ATF firearms tracing data from the years 2003 to 2006. Pierce and his colleagues concluded that California’s stricter gun sales laws and meticulous state record-keeping have had a significant impact on reducing illegally trafficked guns.

“It indicates that it’s harder for criminals to get a gun,” said Pierce. “Does that translate into a lower number of gun crimes than there otherwise would be? You can infer that it should be,” said Pierce. “But it’s hard to do that type of research with the restrictions we have on data — because of the Tiahrt Amendment.”

The Tiahrt Amendment, named after former-Congressmember Todd Tiahrt, R-Kansas, effectively banned the ATF from making its gun tracing data available to anyone except law enforcement agencies. That makes it impossible for researchers like Pierce to examine how the legal firearms market feeds the underground market for crime guns.

But even with this legislative roadblock in place, Pierce said the evidence supports California-style regulations. Trafficked firearms bought from licensed dealers are a prime source of crime guns, and anything that clogs this pipeline of weapons has a positive effect.

“Most of the guns already owned by private individuals, as the NRA often says, are owned by upstanding and responsible citizens and won’t end up in the hands of criminal,” said Pierce. “If it’s the leader of the Mafia, do they know how to get a gun? Of course. But the people who end up committing most gun crimes are not that sophisticated, and better laws could make it more likely on a probabilistic basis that they won’t be able to obtain a firearm.”

Dix said for all the progress California has made, the state’s gun problem is still an epidemic that needs to be addressed, and that there are pockets in California where guns are still far too easy to get because of trafficking. “As we know, there’s still a big problem in places like Oakland,” Dix said. “It’s still too easy to traffic guns from other states, and there’s so many guns already around.”

Delvecchio said that the ATF’s San Francisco Field Division office sometimes has to decline requests from local police agencies for extra assistance in serious firearms cases. “We only have so many people and resources based on what headquarters gives us, and headquarters only has as much as Congress gives them,” said Delvecchio. “Sometimes, we have to say ‘no.’ Sometimes, I have to tell [local police] I can’t give them a body on a full-time basis.”

Two weeks ago, Audrey Candy Corn, the mother of Torian Hughes, told family and friends gathered at his memorial service that shortly before Hughes was gunned down, he said he was scared to walk the streets of Oakland. He was afraid of the ubiquitous threat of gun violence and worried constantly about being shot in a robbery or a random confrontation. On December 20, Hughes’s fears came true at the corner of Mandela Parkway and 8th Street in West Oakland.

Two men approached him in broad daylight. One of them pulled a gun and fatally shot Hughes. This was the second to last homicide in Oakland in 2015, a year that ended with 93 killings, almost all of them committed with a gun.

“People treat shootings like a personal tragedy, but the truth is, after Torian was killed, people keep coming up to me and telling me that they, too, have lost a family member to gun violence,” said Oakland City Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney, in an interview. Although Audrey Corn was not related by blood to Gibson McElhaney and her husband Clarence, the couple treated her like she was their daughter, and Torian, like a grandson. They helped raise Torian and, at times, provided support to Corn. Gibson McElhaney also worried about Torian, not because of anything he ever did, but because of who he was. In Oakland, anyone can become a shooting victim, but the Black community suffers disproportionately, and Black men and boys are especially vulnerable.

Gibson McElhaney was a peacemaker long before her grandson was killed, but the incident is transforming her. The suspect arrested in Torian’s death earlier this month is a fifteen-year-old boy. Gibson McElhaney said everything about the tragic event — one child killing another — points to the failure of Americans to overcome political polarization on gun policy and to adopt sensible laws that have been proven to reduce the availability of firearms to people who have no business possessing them.

“I have a brother by marriage who owns a gun store and gun range in Texas. I’m not anti-gun,” said Gibson McElhaney. “I took my son down to Texas so that he could learn about gun safety from his uncle. My father owned guns and hunted.”

Gibson McElhaney rejects the claim that there is an inherent conflict between the Second Amendment and the types of laws that would reduce gun violence, suicides, and accidental shootings. But she notes that because of the policy gridlock at the federal level, cities like Oakland become flooded with guns, which, in turn, become available to children and people with violent criminal backgrounds. This produces trauma and fear, she noted.

Gibson McElhaney said that several years ago, she was going door to door in West Oakland, canvassing the neighborhood during a political campaign. As she walked through the City Towers apartments, a high-rise, affordable-housing community, she noticed bullet holes in the walls. She spoke with a middle-aged couple that lived in one of the buildings who told her about their fear of stepping outside at the wrong time of day or night, of being robbed at gunpoint, or caught in the crossfire of a shooting. The couple told her they went so far as to alter their work schedules and sneak out to their cars to avoid certain areas at certain times. The conversation stuck with her.

“No one should have to live like that,” said Gibson McElhaney. “That’s not freedom.”

The fear of gun violence, the way it distorts everyday life in Oakland, and stunts the development of youngsters who grow up traumatized by the sound of gunfire and the murder of their friends and loved ones, is a form of imprisonment, said Gibson McElhaney. It’s the opposite of the freedom that both libertarians and some on the radical left associate with the Second Amendment.

Gibson McElhaney said people must come to terms with the fact that the nation’s existing gun laws are more a source of oppression than a wellspring of liberty. “Too many people are dying, and there’s trauma in our community,” she said. “And because of this trauma, people are fearful. They don’t get to live fully human, fully expressed lives.”

As an example of laws that would further reduce gun violence and make Americans safer and freer, Gibson McElhaney points to President Obama’s recent executive action to expand the definition of a firearms dealer and require all dealers to register with the government, conduct background checks, and file paperwork on gun sales. Obama’s action, if enforced, would help to close the gun-show loophole that allows for millions of firearms every year to be traded and sold without any tracking mechanism. Law enforcement officials suspect that this loophole is exploited by gun traffickers to divert tens of thousands of firearms each year into the underground market and onto the streets of cities like Oakland.

“Ninety-two percent of Americans, including card-carrying members of the NRA, support universal background checks,” said Gibson McElhaney, referring to a recent poll showing widespread support for checking the criminal and mental health histories of all gun buyers. Gibson McElhaney said that she believes measures like these, which are known to reduce gun violence, and which are broadly supported, are likely being blocked by the gun industry and firearms dealers. “Citizens in every state have to push back against this minority interest that’s very powerful and entrenched, and, I think, profit-driven.”

Gibson McElhaney acknowledges that Oakland’s borders are porous. But she said that the city needs to do whatever it can to reduce gun violence, even if it means passing laws that are as much symbolic as they are substantive. “The city and its residents have a role to play in amplifying this message so that it matters on a national level,” she said.

“We failed Torian. The question is: How can we work to make sure there isn’t another victim?”

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