Firearms trafficking is a scourge that puts thousands of guns into the hands of Chicago criminals every single year.They are guns that arm gangs, and often result in the shooting or murder of innocent people.
Combating the flow of illegal firearms into this city is a never ending battle for law enforcement.
One focus is on gun running: a crime which takes advantage of lax gun laws in other states, and results in hundreds of weapons flooding our streets.
One of those handguns was used in the murder of a Chicago police officer .
It was a senseless crime that rocked a family, a community and the Chicago Police.
Thomas Wortham, 30, an off-duty Chicago cop, was gunned down outside his parents' home in Chicago's Chatham neighborhood, May 19, 2010.
“Our lives are changed forever from what has happened to Tommy,” his mother, Carolyn Wortham said.
It was a crime spawned by greed three years earlier, 500 miles away, at Ed's Pawn Shop in northwestern Mississippi.
Michael Elliott bought a 45 caliber Smith and Wesson pistol for a man named Quawi Gates. Elliott's profit was $100.
Police recovered that very weapon from the scene of Wortham's murder and the ATF traced it back to when Elliott bought it in 2007.
Gates, a Chicagoan from Englewood, was going to school at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi. He was charged with being the ringleader of a trafficking operation that supplied weapons to Chicago's Gangster Disciples.
“He found himself in a target rich environment,” Chicago ATF agent James Ferguson, who handled the Wortham investigation said, “and he then solicited different students as well as people who resided in and around the area of the school, to purchase firearms on his behalf.”
The Feds said Mississippi's gun laws make it easy for criminals to acquire weapons through straw purchasers - people who knowingly buy guns for someone else and then lie on the purchase paperwork, claiming they are buying it for themselves.
Chicago ATF Special Agent in Charge Andrew Traver explained how it often works.
“Say they recruit five straws, so those five straws will each individually go into a dealer and each buy a gun,” Traver said. “Then they'll all go to another dealer and buy a gun and that way they amass a quantity of guns and part of the reason they do this is they circumvent the multiple sales reporting requirement.”
Chicago police recover, on average, about 10,000 guns a year. There are no numbers on how many are actually from gun trafficking, but the Mississippi to Chicago pipeline is driven by the lure of easy money.
“You can get, say a rifle like this for under $500,” Ferguson said. “That particular firearm can then be turned around and sold on the streets for anywhere from $1,000-$1,500.”
To combat the increased influx of guns, the Firearms Trafficking Task Force, made up of the ATF, Chicago Police and State Police, has more than quadrupled in the past eight years.
Elliott's crime eventually sent him to prison for six months.
Gates, who agents said supplied gang members with up to 100 guns and made about $200 per weapon, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to ten years behind bars.
“My son is in the cemetery, the young man who brought the gun to Illinois is in the penitentiary,” Wortham’s mother said. “But what happened to the gun dealer?”
The answer: nothing.
Ed's Pawn Shop is still in business because there was no crime in the guns they sold. Wortham's parents say lawmakers need to do something.
“I think that there should be common sense requirements for every gun dealer regardless of what state it is,” she said, “and I think there should be more stringent oversight for the gun dealers.”
“Again we're not trying to keep gun owners who are legitimate gun owners,” Wortham’s father, Thomas Wortham III said. “There are gun enthusiasts who do collect guns, but nobody buys 30 guns in 30 days unless he's a straw buyer.”
The ATF says straw buyers often see what they do as a victimless crime.
As officer Wortham's family tries to move on, they hope their tragedy might prevent another.
“This is for anyone who might think about buying a gun for a friend and giving it too them,” Wortham’s father said. “Don't do it.”
Officer Wortham's father is himself a retired Chicago police sergeant who witnessed the robbery attempt and fired shots at the suspects. One was killed. Three others are charged with murder and are awaiting trial.