By Richard Muhammad

CHICAGO (–It was a lucrative venture, in which guns purchased from a small town in Mississippi sold for up to 10 times their value on city streets.

The alliance between a licensed White gun dealer and Black alleged gang members brought 83 firearms from Grenada, Miss., to Chicago, between 1995 and 1997, said prosecutors, following the Nov. 13 convictions of Charles Yarbor, of Chicago, and ex-gun dealer Jimmy D. Wren, of Nettleton, Miss. Both men were convicted of conspiracy to buy guns and transport them from Mississippi for resale to Chicago gang members. Two other men, one who is still at large and another who testified for prosecutors, were accused in the case. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 13.

Prosecutors say the men would sell crack cocaine in Grenada for four to five times the price in Chicago and use “straw purchases,” aliases and their own names to buy weapons from Mr. Wren. Mr. Wren made money by increasing the volume of guns he sold, while Mr. Yabor and co-defendants Louis Rowe and Julius Sangster profited from huge markups by illegally reselling the weapons, said T. Markus Funk, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case. Mr. Yabor and Mr. Wren face maximum sentences of five years in prison.


Mr. Wren knew the men were making straw purchases–using women with clean records to legally purchase guns–forging signatures and illegally buying AK-47 style assault rifles, 9 mm pistols and other weapons, said Mr. Funk. The women would buy the weapons, give them to the defendants, then report the guns as stolen, he said. An assault rifle bought for $164 could resell for $640 because of city prohibitions against guns and the desire of criminals to use weapons that could not be traced to them, Mr. Funk explained.

Amy Stillwell, of the Washington, D.C.-based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said, it “sounds like a very clear example of where a federal firearms dealer knew exactly what he was doing, knew that he was selling guns through a straw purchase to criminals and they were ending up in the wrong hands and would be on the illegal market. This is something that is a continual frustration to us, that it is difficult to track these guys.”

Most legal gun dealers are responsible but “bad apples” often get away because federal officials must prove they knowingly sold guns in violation of law, said Ms. Stillwell. Other impediments, like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ ability to only do one unannounced inspection of licensed guns dealers a year, make things worse, she said.

The failure of gun manufacturers and distributors to monitor and avoid disreputable gun dealers is also a problem, said Ms. Stillwell. In the case of the D.C. sniper, a gun shop in Washington state can’t account for one of its weapons used in the shootings, nor 300 additional weapons, she said. That should be a red flag, argued Ms. Stillwell. Her organization is suing gun makers and distributors to make them more accountable, she said. The crime guns come from a small percentage of licensed dealers, Ms. Stillwell observed. “They can stop selling to those folks,” she said.

The Brady Campaign favors a combination of greater support for ATF to target dealers who violate laws, more stringent guidelines for gun sales and increased vigilance from gun makers and distributors. “Many guns can still be sold without background checks,” Ms. Stillwell noted.

Mr. Funk, the assistant U.S. attorney, admits that an illegal gun pipeline from Mississippi to Chicago remains a problem. It is also common for firearms to flow from areas with loose guns laws to urban areas that ban weapons, said Mr. Funk and Ms. Stillwell.