proposed laws

PA Bill Number: HB717

Title: In firearms and other dangerous articles, further providing for definitions and for possession of firearm by minor.

Description: In firearms and other dangerous articles, further providing for definitions and for possession of firearm by minor. ...

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Last Action Date: Feb 27, 2021

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Straw Purchase Prosecutions are few because "its hard". :: 07/20/2014

JOHNSTOWN — Of the three young suspects in the recent shooting death of Tyrone Williams in the city’s Oakhurst section, only one was old enough to legally purchase a handgun.


Although police have recovered two of the three guns they believe were used to kill the 42-year-old city police academy recruit – and a third weapon found near Dorothy Avenue, the home of 15-year-old suspect Fidel Cosby, that also may be connected, police are still looking into how the teenagers got their hands on them.

Jonathan Duecker, who heads the state attorney general’s Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Drug Control, said he’s not surprised that the city’s most recent gun homicide allegedly involves a 15-year-old.

“You have kids as young as 10 that are picking up guns,” he told The Tribune-Democrat on Friday in a phone interview.

He said Pennsylvania is a “gun-friendly” state, from a legislative perspective. Concealed carry laws, “Stand Your Ground” and the “Castle” doctrine are all part of the state’s code. The ease of purchasing and carrying weapons for personal use actually makes Pennsylvania ideal for underground gun trafficking into nearby states like New York and Maryland, he said.

“It’s part of Pennsylvania culture,” he said. “The Legislature realizes that.”

Duecker said although the majority of gun owners in the state are lawful carriers – and many of the vendors they buy from are “working aboveboard” and even helping the state to spot and track suspicious “straw” purchases – there are a myriad of ways for a gun to end up on the street.

“Many of the weapons we see in Pennsylvania are either stolen or lost – or obtained illegally,” he said, either taken in car or home invasions or used as barter for prescription drugs. “It’s easier for many people to get the guns than to get the money to buy drugs.”

He said evidence of the interstate black market can be seen in recent gun-related cases in Lancaster, York and Harrisburg. Much of the criminal activity was found to originate from Baltimore.

“We see some known gang members that will come up to Pennsylvania and will actually trade prescriptions for opioid painkillers for guns that may have been stolen in home invasions,” he said. “In certain areas of the state, we have seen home invasions go up and down depending on where there was a market for guns.”

Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan said it’s common for felons, who are legally prohibited from owning firearms, to have the women they’re involved with purchase guns for them. This is a straw purchase, and although it’s common enough to draw scrutiny, it can be difficult to prove in court, she said.

“If a gun is involved in an incident, the ‘straw’ purchaser picks up the phone and tells the police, ‘My gun was stolen,’ ” she said. Just last week, prosecutors at the Ebensburg courthouse lost one such guilty verdict.

“Those are cases that are hard to put together to get an arrest,” Callihan said.

It can be simple enough for criminal investigators to trace a weapon’s origins provided the serial number is intact, but if that gun is stolen or purchased out of state, that creates a hiccup.

To address that problem, a special firearms task force based out of Philadelphia is analyzing the characteristics of straw purchases and making inroads with gun dealers around the state.

“There’s a methodology that our agents use to identify what a straw purchase looks like at a gun store or a gun show,” he said. “We’re actually helping gun stores and gun shows identify straw purchases.”

According to police, Oakhurst shooting suspect Richard Cook used a revolver and 15-year-old suspect Fidel Cosby used a larger, black pistol with a laser sight – an uncommon modification for law enforcement, but common enough in the commercial sector, Duecker said. Johnstown police could not be reached for further details about the weapons used in Williams’ death.

Cambria County Sheriff Bob Kolar said the guns will likely be destroyed once the homicide case is resolved completely.

That’s standard procedure for guns that are used in shootings, he said. And if the police get hold of such a weapon, it’s usually illegal already.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, I’d say it’s hot,” he said.