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Published: Wednesday, 2/29/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Where youths get guns sometimes a mystery

BY TAYLOR DUNGJEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

In Toledo and other communities, it's not uncommon for firearms to end up in the hands of juveniles. How those children end up with the guns, however, is sometimes a mystery.

The tragedy that continues to unfold in Chardon, a small city about 30 miles east of Cleveland where three high school students are dead and two others are wounded after a 17-year-old opened fire Monday, is the latest example of what can happen when a young person pulls the trigger.

Recent stories of juveniles with guns have made headlines locally and across the country.

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Over the weekend, a fight among teens at Westfield Franklin Park mall included a 14-year-old with a loaded revolver, police said.

Last week, a 5-year-old boy from West Toledo took an unloaded gun to the day care he attends and was showing it to classmates. Authorities said he told them that he found the gun near his family's apartment on Silverside Drive.

And a day later, on Feb. 22, a 9-year-old boy in Washington state accidentally shot and critically injured an 8-year-old classmate when a 45-caliber handgun he took to school went off in his backpack. The Washington boy got the gun from his mother's house, authorities there have said.

Authorities in Chardon investigating the shooting have said the gun used by the suspect, T.J. Lane, was a 22-caliber revolver taken from his grandfather.

Most firearms used in crimes and recovered by Toledo police officers have not been reported stolen, authorities said.

Every time police recover a gun -- whether it's found in a back alley or taken from a homicide suspect -- the origin of the gun is traced by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

"When we first get a gun, we run it through our records department, we check it to see if it's stolen," said Toledo police Sgt. Joe Heffernan. "Sometimes they are … but most of the time they're not."

No matter where any of the youths got their guns, in Ohio it is illegal for anyone younger than 21 to have a handgun, Sergeant Heffernan said. A long gun, such as a rifle, can be purchased by those 18 and older.

In that regard, police have said that figuring out how juveniles get guns can be a mystery, and may include taking a gun from a relative, stealing it in a break-in, or buying it on the street.

"How and why these kids have these guns, you know, I don't know," Sergeant Heffernan said. "Is it a case of irresponsible gun ownership? Did he steal the gun? Did he buy the gun on the street? … "

Heather Davis, a manager at Cleland's gun shop near toledo Express Airport, said that as a safeguard, anyone who buys a firearm is subjected to a background check and must provide a valid driver's license with a current address.

The individual who wishes to buy the gun must fill out a form that includes questions about the applicants criminal background, mental health, and basic identification. The application is then sent to the federal firearms bureau, and the applicant later receives one of three responses: proceed, deny, or delay.

Ms. Davis said that, with a proceed, the applicant can buy the gun and take it home the same day. With a delay, the bureau has up to three days to process the request -- which could be held up if an applicant has a common last name and elects to not provide his or her Social Security number. If the federal agency does not respond after three days, the applicant is approved.

A denial could mean a number of things, but the background check specifically looks for a criminal history that includes a felony or domestic-violence conviction. Pending felony offenses result in denial. A denial can be appealed, but it's up to the applicant to follow up with the bureau, Ms. Davis said.

The background check acts as a registration, linking the gun's serial number to the owner and is what allows authorities to trace guns when they are recovered, Sergeant Heffernan said.

In Michigan, the laws regulating the purchase and registration of guns are slightly different.

According to the Michigan State Police Web site, to purchase, carry, or transport a gun in Michigan, an individual must first have a license for the gun, which is obtained by a local police department or sheriff's office.

As in Ohio, buying a gun in Michigan requires a criminal background check.

Different, however, is that the minimum age for purchasing all guns in Michigan is 18; the applicant also must fill out a "basic pistol safety questionnaire" and answer 70 percent of the questions correctly.

Street deals that do not follow the letter of the law can result in federal prison time.

"If you're going to go out and sell a juvenile a gun for a couple hundred bucks, you're taking a major risk," Sergeant Heffernan said.

"If you get caught you're probably going to federal prison for a long time. Believe me, those are the cases the ATF are very interested in."

Contact Taylor Dungjen at: tdungjen@theblade.com or 419-724-6054.



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