Investigators Seize Over 100 Illegal Firearms in Months-Long Investigation in Tuscaloosa, Alabama
A joint investigation between Tuscaloosa Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives led to the seizure of over 100 illegally purchased firearms, resulting in over 20 felony charges.
The seized guns came from straw purchases, which occur when an individual buys a gun to then give to another person who can't legally purchase or possess a firearm. This was an initiative spearheaded by Tuscaloosa Police Chief Brent Blankley in conjunction with both state and federal agencies.
This joint operation was conducted by the Tuscaloosa Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Alabama and the Tuscaloosa County District Attorney's Office.
Throughout the operation, TPD investigators obtained warrants against nine offenders on 20 felony charges. Four individuals have been taken into custody as of publishing. The majority of these arrests are the result of a two and a half month-long investigation, although some cases originated more than a year ago.
In total, more than 100 weapons have been seized through this investigation. Although the total number of recovered guns is still being calculated, 113 cases were investigated in this two and a half month period, which saw 247 guns purchased.
"Gun violence is often at the core of the problems of violent crimes in our communities," said Prim Escalona, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. "Those who are responsible for activities that consistently fuel violence, such as firearms trafficking and straw purchases, is a top priority in my office."
Many of the guns seized were ultimately used, or could have been used to commit violent crimes. TPD Assistant Chief Steve Rice said one firearm purchase was distributed to a 15-year-old, and it was later used in a crime. Another straw purchase gun was used in an attempted murder.
The defendants accused of making these straw purchases first obtained the firearms from authorized retailers in the Tuscaloosa area. They were then transferred to people prohibited from owning or possessing firearms as far north as New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Washington D.C.
"We're thankful with our partnerships... The primary mission of ATF is reducing violent crime and protecting the public," said ATF Special Agent Ashley Lightner.
Lightner explained that when making a straw purchase, buyers sign an ATF Form 4473 that certifies they will be the gun's owner. Lying on the form is a felony, punishable by up to ten years in prison with fines totaling up to $250,000.
Individuals who go on to possess these illegally purchased firearms will be charged with any crimes forthcoming. The officially licensed retailers involved will not be charged unless they are complicit in the sale.
"We won't know the number of lives that have been saved because of this two and a half months worth of investigation," said Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox. "But no doubt, countless lives have been saved."
"This is attacking the crime before it happens almost in a sense... It's not after the fact, after we've got another home or car or body shot up," said Tuscaloosa County District Attorney Hays Webb. "This is our point - we don't care if it's the illegal purchase, the illegal sale, the illegal possession or the illegal use of guns. We are going to do everything we possibly can to attack it at every level and to make our community as safe as possible."
This partnership is ongoing, according to Assistant Chief Rice. The identities of the suspects arrested will be released at a later date.
Officials urged anyone with information that could lead to future illegal firearm seizures call (205) 752-7867 or leave an anonymous tip online here.