As a felon, F. Glenn Miller Jr. had no legal right to a gun.
What’s more, a gun dealer would face prison time for selling him a weapon.
Even a friend who gave or sold him guns would risk federal prison time for arming someone they knew or suspected was a felon.
Yet the proud racist and anti-Semite stands accused of firing both a shotgun and a handgun in the murder of three people at Jewish facilities in Overland Park last weekend.
So who put his finger on a trigger?
Investigators tracing the source of the guns allegedly used by the felon think he was aided by a straw buyer who could clear background checks likely to foil Miller, said a law enforcement official familiar with the case.
The law enforcement source, who insisted upon anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said local police and agents from the FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives are trying to locate the middleman.
Such a gun-buying go-between represents a vexing problem for keeping firearms out of the hands of people like Miller who lost their Second Amendment rights when they became felons.
Gun rights advocates blame lax enforcement, not firearms law, for the problem. After all, investigators are pursuing a lead on what would already be a federal felony.
“Most criminals obtain guns from theft, the black market, or ‘straw purchasers,’ ” says the National Rifle Association.
Promoters of stricter gun control see straw buys as symptomatic of regulations that fail to keep guns away from criminals. Under existing federal law, they say, prosecutors find it difficult to prove that a buyer necessarily knew a weapon was headed to a felon.
“It’s extremely hard to prove they lied about their intent when they bought the gun,” said Kristen Rand, a lobbyist for the Violence Policy Center, which supports stricter gun sale rules.
The person who bought the guns intended for Miller purchased them from a licensed merchant, the law enforcement official said. The source declined to say whether authorities have identified the merchant or determined when the firearms were bought.
A straw buyer breaks the law by lying on the ATF’s Form 4473 that asks about the identity of the true purchaser. (“Are you the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm(s) listed on this form?”) False statements on the form carry a fine of up to $250,000 and a prison term up to 10 years.
If the licensed gun dealer knew a straw purchaser lied on the federal form, that seller would also face prosecution under the same law.
“If someone bought guns for (Miller), there’s no question. It’s open and shut,” said Kevin Jamison, a Gladstone defense attorney and longtime member of the Western Missouri Shooters Alliance. “The only question is whether (a straw buyer) had reason to believe he has a criminal record.”
Yet gun control advocates say it can be hard to prove a buyer’s intent to hand over the gun to a felon — or the rest of the class of people prohibited from possessing a gun.
“You don’t want to make a prosecutor prove someone’s state of mind,” said Ladd Everitt, a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “That’s almost impossible.”
A handful of states have additional laws aimed at cracking down on straw gun purchases, including requiring background checks on sales between ordinary gun owners. Missouri and Kansas are not among them.
Federal legislation that would seek to crack down on straw gun buys — mostly through stiffer penalties — has repeatedly stalled on Capitol Hill in recent years.
Miller, long active in white supremacist activities, now faces capital murder and first-degree murder charges in the killings of William Lewis Corporon, Reat Underwood and Terri LaManno. The shootings, which drew national attention, happened Sunday near Jewish facilities in Overland Park on the eve of the start of Passover.
Miller, according to his autobiography, agreed to a plea bargain in 1987 that sentenced him to prison for five years on a conviction of felony possession of a hand grenade.
That conviction came after he and other members of the White Patriots Party were arrested for amassing a weapons cache near Springfield. Miller agreed to testify against other members of the group, a move that for years alienated him to much of the racist paramilitary underground.
After his release from prison, he was known as Frazier Glenn Cross Jr., perhaps evidence that he was placed in a federal witness protection program. Federal authorities do not confirm when someone has been given such protection. He was charged under the name Cross in Sunday’s killings.
The U.S. Justice Department estimated in 1997 that 14 percent of state prison inmates who had used or possessed a firearm during their crimes bought or traded the weapons from a retail store, pawnshop, flea market or gun show. Nearly 40 percent got their weapons from family or friends. About 30 percent bought a weapon on the black market. Another 10 percent stole the gun.
Since the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act took effect in 1994, background checks have been required on all gun purchases from licensed dealers.
Through 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, that meant more than 118 million checks for firearms transfers or permits. Of those, about 2 percent were denied. Among the agencies that reported the reasons for denial, the bureau says, felony convictions were most common — cited in slightly less than a third of such rejections.
An ATF study in the late 1990s concluded that straw buys were involved in just under half of illegal gun trafficking.
The ATF partners with the National Shooting Sports Foundation in a “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy” program. It tries to encourage gun dealers to better identify straw purchasers and to educate the public about the consequences of acting as straw buyers.
“Buy a gun for someone who can’t,” its posters say, “buy yourself 10 years in jail.”
Last summer, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that gun dealers must use the highest degree of care in preventing the sale of guns to a felon.
That ruling stemmed from a lawsuit by a woman whose son was murdered in 2003 by her estranged husband Russell Graham. She sued the pawn shop where the murder weapon was obtained in a straw purchase the day of the murder-suicide. The man’s grandmother bought the gun after he told the dealer he was a felon and was consequently ineligible to buy the weapon himself.
A lower court is now judging the facts in the case.