FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) - It's against the law to buy a gun for someone who can't get it on their own, like a convicted felon or someone who's mentally ill. But an undercover CBS 11 I-Team investigation reveals getting around that law is easier than you think.
It's called a straw purchase. Stores and pawn shops selling these weapons have to follow federal gun laws, just like everyone else. A perfect example of how a straw purchase works happened just a few months ago in our own back yard.
Montague County Deputy James Boyd was shot four times just eight weeks ago, including once in the head. On that afternoon back in March, 27-year old Boyd pulled over a man driving a Cadillac with Colorado plates. The driver was convicted felon Even Ebel, a man connected to two murders in Colorado, including the state's prisons chief. When Boyd approached the car, all he saw was a gun.
"I blacked out just after I got shot. I can remember seeing all the cartridges come out and that's it," Deputy Boyd told CBS 11.
The weapon Ebel used would eventually be traced back to a Colorado woman named Stevie Vigil. She's now charged with buying a gun and giving it to Ebal, a convicted felon. It's an act known as a straw purchase.
"Do you hold her just as responsible as you do Evan?" Investigative Reporter Mireya Villarreal asked.
"Yes," Boyd answered.
Villarreal followed up, "Why is that?"
"Because she knew what she was doing was wrong," Boyd explained. "She was giving a gun to a convicted felon that was released too early from prison. There are very few outcomes that can come from that."
But how often does this happen here? After all, it's against the law.
The CBS 11 I-Team went undercover at eleven local gun stores and pawn shops to find out. At each store, Investigative Reporter, Mireya Villarreal, or her photographer, Mike Lozano, would handle the gun to make sure the clerk knew exactly who'd be using it once we walked out.
After asking about background checks, we would tell the clerk we weren't sure we'd pass one.
At six of the stores we walked into, the clerk behind the counter shut us down.
But at five of the locations, the clerk agreed to sell us the gun. That includes a Cash America Pawn Shop in North Dallas where the first clerk tells us no sale.
Mike Lozano, CBS Photographer: "I don't know if I'd pass a background check. Would she be able to buy it?
Mireya Villarreal, CBS Investigative Reporter: "Would I be able to buy the gun instead?"
Cash America Clerk: "If you wouldn't have told me that, maybe, yea."
But the clerk's manager gives us a different answer.
Mike Lozano: "But if she's approved, y'all are cool selling to her?"
Cash America Manager: "Yea."
The other four locations where clerks agreed to sell us the gun, despite telling them we weren't sure we'd pass a background check, included A Action Pawn Shop in Irving, Cheaper Than Dirt Outdoor Adventures in Fort Worth, Uncle Dan's Pawn Shop in Dallas, and Doc Holiday's Pawn Shop in Fort Worth.
A Action Pawn Shop Clerk: "If y'all go anywhere, it's called a straw purchase. And since we deal with the FBI and the ATF, they back check on us. But they don't really check check that hard."
Cheaper Than Dirt Outdoor Adventures Clerk: "People get a misconception thinking that they're registering their gun."
Mireya Villarreal, CBS Investigative Reporter: "Yea."
Cheaper Than Dirt Outdoor Adventures Clerk: "Texas has never had gun registration."
Mireya Villarreal, CBS Investigative Reporter: "So, he can take care of it for me?"
Cheaper Than Dirt Outdoor Adventures Clerk: "Sure."
Mireya Villarreal, CBS Investigative Reporter: "Ok. Cool. That's what we were worried about."
In the end, we didn't buy anything. But we took our undercover video to UT Arlington's top criminologist, Dr. Alejandro Del Carmen.
"I think what your videos showcase is the fact that we have a problem. That this is a problem going on in the United States," Dr. Del Carmen noted.
Dr. Del Carmen works hand in hand with law enforcement agencies across the country. He says agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms don't always have the resources they need.
"If that transaction would have taken place, it would have been a criminal offense. And if a federal agency would have the capacity to be able to detect this and to put undercover agents to do this, they would have probably closed the place down and indicted the people working there," Dr. Del Carmen added.
The outgoing President of the National Rifle Association, David Keene shared a similar sentiment.
"What we say in the instance of straw purchases and in other gun crimes, you've got laws. Take those laws and prosecute criminals. And if you do that you're going to solve a lot of the problem," Keene said.
Deputy Boyd doesn't necessarily back stricter gun control laws. What he does want people to realize is how easy it is for people to ignore the law, including store clerks that are supposed to be our first line of defense.
"It's just like crack cocaine. You can make it illegal, it's already illegal. But you can still buy it on the corner," Boyd told us.
We also went to Bass Pro Shop where the clerk wouldn't sell us the gun, but he did tell us how to get around the law. Management is now investigating the situation and working with ATF. Cash America Pawn Shop, Uncle Dan's Pawn Shop and Cheaper Than Dirt Outdoor Adventures say they plan to conduct internal audits and reviews.
ATF out of Washington, D.C. tells us they are aware of what we caught on camera and will look into the situation.
Bass Pro Shops released the following statement regarding the CBS 11 I-Team Investigation:
"Bass Pro Shops complies with all laws regarding firearm sales and customer background checks. All firearm sales Associates receive extensive training to ensure that we are in compliance with the law. If we ever determine that a prior sale may not be in compliance with the law then we promptly contact the ATF."
CASH AMERICA PAWN STATEMENT:
UNCLE DAN'S PAWN SHOP STATEMENT:
CHEAPER THAN DIRT STATEMENT:
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