A gun dealer's legacy is murder Illegal sales traced to several killings

December 29, 1991|By M. Dion Thompson

It was a perfect tool for killing, this powerful, semiautomatic, Austrian pistol.

Stamped as No. PV309US, it moved through Baltimore for six months, making a few appearances police know of: an illegal sale, a drive-by shooting, a murder.

The gun, a .40-caliber Glock Model 23, is one of hundreds federal and city officials have traced to Carroll L. Brown, a 30-year-old former postal worker and gun dealer who, using personal contacts and classified ads in The Sun, illegally sold 335 high-powered weapons from April to December last year.

Brown is serving a 21-month sentence at the federal prison in Danbury, Conn., but police assume that most of the guns he sold are still on the streets.

In Baltimore's criminal world, high-tech weapons such as No. PV309US, are common. So are assault rifles, bulletproof vests, laser sights and machine pistols.

"Saturday night specials aren't our problem anymore," said city prosecutor H. Jerome Briscoe. "No self-respecting criminal would have a Saturday night special."

Consequently, the rapid pop-pop-pop of semiautomatic gunfire echoes throughout the city's streets as gunmen wage brief, private wars.

"Now, with these automatic weapons, they're basically spraying areas," said Mr. Briscoe, who prosecuted the murder in which No. PV309US was used. "We're finding a lot more innocent victims being caught, houses being sprayed. The violence is escalating as high-tech meets the drug dealers."

Brown indirectly helped give the dealers access to that high-powered weaponry. Before his arrest and the conviction for violating federal gun laws that sent him to prison, he was one of about 264,000 federally licensed gun dealers. About 340 are in Maryland, state police said. State officials also said there are about 1 million registered guns in Maryland and perhaps another 1 million unregistered.

Described by his attorney as a nice, soft-spoken family man, Brown, who declined a request for an interview, liked guns and had his own private collection.

"He seemed like a pretty decent guy to me," attorney M. Gordon Tayback said of his client. "I just think he found a ready source of cash but wasn't prepared to be businessman."

In June 1989, Brown got a federal license to sell guns. He filled out the requisite forms, answered the questions about his background and read the packet of rules and regulations given each licensee. He had planned to run a gun shop in the 1000 block of Reisterstown Road. The shop failed.

And Brown took another tack.

Federal court records show that guns started arriving at his home in April 1990. At first, the shipments were few, but as the year progressed, the deliveries became more frequent.

Sales were brisk, prices reasonable.

Having no overhead, he sold his weapons for about $100 above wholesale. But by selling them out of his house, he was breaking the law.

Federal authorities believe that Brown, who has a wife and three children, seized on gun dealing to pad his $1,500-a-month take-home pay from the U.S. Postal Service.

Mr. Tayback agrees. "He saw this as an opportunity to supplement his income, to provide for his family's basic needs," he said. By September 1990, Brown was advertising in The Sun.

John E. Kennedy, who would sign for No. PV309US's entry into Baltimore, saw one of those ads. Right there in the Sunday classifieds, guns for sale. Good guns. Not cheap, low-caliber pop guns but powerful, well-made, top-of-the-line semiautomatics. Kennedy, a felon, had no business buying guns. It was against the law for him to possess a firearm. So he stepped outside the law and right up to Brown.

"At the time, I wasn't supposed to legally own a gun, and he said: 'That's all right. Just sign here. It doesn't go anywhere. It stays with me,' " Kennedy said during a recent Baltimore Circuit Court murder trial. "[The gun] was still wrapped up, just like it was brand new."

Yet Brown apparently had nagging concerns about the law. As required, he made Kennedy sign for the semiautomatic 10mm Auto Ordnance pistol. Brown also was supposed to tell state police about the intended sale and wait seven days before completing it. None of that happened. Kennedy just signed his name, put down $380 and left.

After that purchase, Kennedy referred his friends to Brown.

Even without word-of-mouth endorsements, the advertisement in The Sun touted Brown's wares.

In October, barely a day passed without an United Postal Service delivery to Brown's home. During one eight-day period, 45 weapons arrived C0D: 10 on Oct. 10, nine on Oct. 15, 11 on Oct. 16, 15 on Oct. 17. Each time, Brown paid cash.

On Oct. 18, Kennedy was again at Brown's Northwest Baltimore home, this time to sign for some .357-caliber handguns, 9mm pistols and three .40-caliber Glocks, among them No. PV309US.

The guns weren't for Kennedy. They were for a 19-year-old. But Brown didn't want the young man to sign for them. The law forbids selling guns to anyone under 21.

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