Since 2012, the Massachusetts-based Operation LIPSTICK (“Ladies Involved in Putting a Stop to Inner City Killing,”) has educated women on the dangers of trafficking, supplying, and holding illegal firearms. At the center of a new report released by the organization this week is straw purchasing, or the act of buying a gun on behalf of someone who is prohibited from owning one. While men commit most acts of gun violence, researchers like Dr. Garen Wintemute believe women are disproportionately enlisted into illegally supplying weapons.
Nancy Robinson, who leads Operation LIPSTICK, says she compiled the report because female straw purchasers are a largely unchecked problem. “Nobody’s connecting these dots,” she tells The Trace. “Police haven’t searched women and girls. [These women] are not understanding that the guns they’re buying are then passed on and used in crimes.”
Robinson and her fellow campaigners have taken their findings to “women caught up in the life” to educate them on the role they play in the cycle of gun violence. “One of the things we practice is, we don’t judge these women,” Robinson explains. “But we do say these women have a moral responsibility to not put a gun in the wrong hands.”
LIPSTICK’s findings are drawn largely from an analysis of media articles. Below, the main factors identified as driving women into straw purchasing:
1. Manipulative Relationships
Male criminals often leverage relationships with women with clean criminal records to get ahold of guns. Whether the purchaser is a female relative or romantic partner, they are drawn to buy the firearm out of loyalty, love, or a need for approval and protection, as these accounts show:
A college-bound valedictorian prep school student in New York City distributed guns for her boyfriend who was a member of a violent street gang. He also instructed her on how to shoot, saying “head shots only.” (New York Daily News, 4/27/2011)
A 26-year-old Georgia woman pleaded guilty to straw purchasing a gun for her boyfriend. He used it to kill an Omaha police officer. Court documents show the man was texting the woman as she was inside the pawnshop, directing her on what to buy. (Clayton News-Daily, 8/19/2015)
Fiancée of former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez paid $15,000 for a shipment of illegal guns from Florida to Massachusetts. (U.S. Attorney Office news release, 5/5/2015)
2. Drug Addiction
Many women are persuaded to make straw purchases in exchange for fresh supplies of illicit substances.
A 27-year-old Pennsylvania woman, a single mother, was sentenced to 5-to-10 years in prison for the straw purchase of three handguns She was paid a few hundred dollars for the weapons. She said she needed the money for diapers and Percocet, a prescription narcotic. (Delaware County Daily Times, 1/9/2015)
A Philadelphia woman had a drug problem and an empty wallet, so when her neighbor, a convicted felon, asked her to buy a gun, she agreed. He killed a teenager and attempted to shoot two police officers with the gun she bought. (Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/2/2009)
A 38-year-old Vermont woman was charged with buying a gun the crack cocaine dealer she lived with used in a fatal shootout. (Rutland Herald, 5/29/2008)
3. Economic Necessity
Many women are driven to make straw purchases out of financial need. Gun buyers pay them modest sums to make the buys.
A gun trafficking ring paid a female college student in Mississippi $50 to $100 to make straw purchases and hide the guns in her dorm room. One of the trafficked guns traced to the ring was used to kill an off-duty police officer and Iraq War veteran in Chicago (Chicago Tribune 9/18/2010)
A quiet Texas woman who “couldn’t resist the promise of easy money for precious little work” funneled 77 guns to drug cartels. At least a dozen women in the past two years have surfaced in federal gun-trafficking cases, according to court records. Women are paid as little as $100 per trip. (USA Today, 8/23/2009)
4. Lack of Awareness
Often women don’t know straw purchasing is a crime, never mind one punishable by more than a decade of prison time in some states.
When a 21-year-old Virginia woman was told she was being charged with lying on gun purchase forms, she said, “Is that all?” She was arrested as part of a gunrunning ring that authorities say recruited numerous women, including welfare mothers and college students, to make straw purchases in Virginia. The guns were recovered at crime scenes in New York City, Baltimore and Syracuse. (Virginian-Pilot, 1/29/2003)
A single mother who lived with her mother and daughter in Chicago told police she bought four handguns for an acquaintance with a criminal record. She didn’t know she was committing a felony that can bring up to 15 years in prison. (Chicago Tribune, 5/12/2013)
A 21-year-old woman bought the guns her neighbor, a convicted murderer, used to kill his sister and two firefighters. According to her mother, the daughter had no idea that what she was doing was wrong. (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 9/20/2014)
Here’s the full report:
[Photo: Flickr user Tom Cardoso]