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Local police officer: Most homicides associated with people carrying illegal guns 

Published: Monday, October 29, 2018 @ 5:30 PM

Local police officer: Most homicides associated with people carrying illegal guns
Local police officer: Most homicides associated with people carrying illegal guns

Lying about your record while trying to buy a gun is illegal, but as it turns out, federal prosecutors are not really going after people who are dishonest on applications, even if they're caught red-handed. So, there is a new local partnership between police, county prosecutors and a local gun store that is holding people accountable and attempting to keep illegal guns out of Miami Valley communities.

One recent tragedy involving illegal gun crime killed 20-year-old Taylor Brandenburg. She was baby-sitting at a home on Huffman Avenue in Dayton in March 2017 when she came outside to check on a commotion. A bar fight had spilled onto the street and Chuckie Lee fired 37 gunshots aimed at the man he was fighting with. Two stray bullets hit Brandenburg, tragically cutting short her promising future.

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"We know that she was so much more and we don't want her to be perceived as just somebody who was baby-sitting kids," Danielle Webb told News Center 7 after Lee was sentenced. Webb is Brandenburg's cousin. Lee was silent in court last month as he was sentenced to 61-years-to-life in prison for the murder. 

"I was thankful that he didn't say anything to us because nothing that he would have said would have mattered," Webb said.

Lee killed Brandenburg with a gun he shouldn't have had in the first place since he was a convicted felon. Homicide detectives say a staggering number of the shooting deaths in Montgomery County are committed by people who are not allowed to own a gun. 

"I would say it's upward of 95 to 98 percent of the homicides that we have are people who are carrying guns illegally," said Sgt. Brad Daugherty with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office. who has spent 14 years as a homicide detective. 

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An application and background check are required to purchase a gun at a gun store. More than 25 million of them are performed every year. It's a federal crime to lie on those forms, but thousands of people who do lie are going unprosecuted. Federal auditors with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found out of 112,000 failed background checks in the United States in 2017, only 12 people were charged. GAO said federal prosecutors told them they often lack the resources to pursue these cases. 

"Some of the investigations can be difficult and they can be time-consuming," Gretta Goodwin with the U.S. Government Accountability Office said. "And they are taking away resources from other law enforcement activities."

"ATF's resources are stretched thin, just like ours are," said Miami Township Police Department Capt. Charlie Stiegelmeyer. "So we've reached out to partner with the prosecutor's office and other local agencies in an attempt to work with local businesses to stop these kind of crimes. We're not here to stop the law-abiding citizens, the ones who have the rights to the firearms. We're all about supporting that."

Many gun background checks originate in a gun store. That's why Miami Township Police are partnering with The Miami Armory. The staff's eyes, ears and experience on the front end of the gun buying process are helping police nip anything illegal in the bud.

"In a matter of conversation that's where you end up getting some of the details that might stop a transaction," said David Becker, owner of The Miami Armory. 

If Becker or his staff catch a customer lying on forms to get a gun, they will police to have them investigate. 

"I've got a store front. I'm part of a community," Becker said. "I want to have a good reputation so you know we try to make sure that we're going the best form of business that we can."

This partnership is less than a year old and so far two cases are heading toward prosecution.

"Chief (Ron) Hess and Miami Township they've come to us and said, 'Would you help us?' And I said, 'Absolutely," said Montgomery County Prosecuting Attorney Mat Heck, Jr. "So we've taken and started an innovative initiative where while it is a federal crime, we can also charge them locally under state law."

The goal is to prevent what happened to families like the Brandenburg’s. 

"After you bury your child there's this heart-wrenching feeling that never goes away," said Ashley Brandenburg, Taylor's step-mother. "You ask yourself daily if you told her, 'I love you' enough.'"

United States Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, issued a memo ordering his prosecutors to do more with this kind of crime. He said lying on background checks, "can't be tolerated" and ordered the Department of Justice to enhance prosecution of these cases.

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