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The lawsuit was able to tie specific crimes in the city to the guns purchased in Smyrna. In March 1996, for example, a man was shot in the face with a 9 mm handgun purchased from Adventure Outdoors. The next month, a robber pistol-whipped a man with one of the guns sold by Wallace. Two years later, cops collared a man fleeing and armed with a gun bought in Smyrna.
None of the crimes cited in the litigation were murders. But all are the type of street crime that degrades the quality of life in a city – much as is happening today with rising violent-crime rates in Atlanta.
- Joeff Davis
- Joeff Davis STRAIGHT SHOOTER: Salesman Jonathan Gay shows a handgun to customer Joe Chafin. "I just like guns," Chafin says when asked why he's buying one.
The lawsuit is thick with emotion. The substantive portion kicks off with newspaper accounts of a horrifying list of gun violence in New York during a single five-day period in 2005. "Police nabbed the man who gunned down two people ..." "Police yesterday identified a young man who was shot dead ..." "Two men were shot in a botched robbery attempt ..." "An argument over a soccer game turned fatal ..." "A 2 1/2-year-old boy was shot and killed in the Bronx when a stray bullet penetrated his family's minivan."
None of the weapons used in those crimes is linked to Adventure Outdoors, however, or for that matter to any of the gun shops named in Bloomberg's lawsuits. But the complaints do make the point about the origins of guns in general, and the stores that sell them: "Dealers whose intentional participation in illegal sales is exposed by undercover 'stings' show a sharp reduction in the number of guns sold by them that are later recovered in crimes, as compared with sales made before the stings occurred."
From the start, Bloomberg faced giant hurdles in enforcing a New York state of mind on Southern gun dealers. For example, New York couldn't dispatch its own detectives or private investigators to other parts of the nation to purchase guns. The law requires a buyer to be a resident of the state where the firearm is purchased. So the city hired investigators – Nooner, for example – in the various states where suspect gun shops were located.
Compounding the problem is that however aggressive New York is in trying to regulate guns, the nation is awash in firearms. About 90 million Americans own more than 200 million pistols, revolvers, rifles, shotguns, muzzle-loaders and machine guns.
New York officials wouldn't say how many gun shops were initially targeted, only that 27 were sued. Some escaped Bloomberg's stings, though. When Nooner and an associate tried the straw-purchase gambit at the Candler Road Pawnshop in Decatur, they ran into a brick wall in the form of a husky salesman, Mike Phillips.
"The man, he had a Georgia ID, and the sale looked good," Phillips recalls. "Then he said that the woman was the one really buying the gun. I told him, 'That's against the law.' My rule is, if it smells fishy, walk away. The woman came back a second time and tried to do it again. I said, 'no.'"
Bloomberg spokesman Post had nothing but praise for the Candler Road store and Phillips – but the salesman wasn't impressed. "I don't appreciate what New York is doing," Phillips says. "If we have a problem, we need to police it ourselves."
Jay Wallace could be your next-door neighbor. He could be just about anyone's next-door neighbor. He's affable, gracious, graying, sometimes gruff. His Alabama-bred drawl is muted but still capable of dallying with some syllables while ignoring others completely.
Wallace loves to show off his firearm emporium and to tell about how he began his business 30 years ago after noticing that people flocked to second-hand stores looking for bargains. He later opened Smyrna Pawnbrokers, which got him into gun sales, and recalls in his understated way, "That was a good thing to do."
So good that it eventually led to Adventure Outdoors, a sprawling store and warehouse that on any given day has 8,000 to 10,000 guns for sale. If it shoots, Wallace sells it.
Guns of every size and for every purpose, along with all of the paraphernalia of the gun culture, crowd the walls and overwhelm showcases. The storeroom is stacked from the floor to a two-story-high ceiling with boxes and boxes of guns, gun safes, ammunition and all the accoutrements of a well-regulated militia or an impressively locked-and-loaded gun owner.
One room stores dozens of surplus police handguns that are mounted on rubber-coated pegs inserted into the business ends of the barrels. A mezzanine-level office has windows that give a panoramic view of the sales area, and security cameras monitor every action. Wallace proudly displays the computerized and paper records that track transactions.
"We go to such great lengths to ensure sales are legal that accusations that we don't are just plain crazy," Wallace says.