Shop ordered to halt sales of handguns Fells Point store called source of many weapons used illegally

Charged under new Md. law

Co-owner accused of trying to sell gun via 'straw purchaser'

September 26, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A Fells Point gun shop that federal authorities say is a prolific source of firearms for city criminals has been banned from selling handguns after its co-owner was arrested on weapons charges.

Police charge in a three-count indictment that Anthony A. DiMartino, the 67-year-old co-owner of Baltimore Gunsmith Co., tried to sell a semiautomatic handgun through a "straw purchaser" to "a person that he knew was convicted of a crime of violence."

A grand jury indicted DiMartino Sept. 3 on three misdemeanor weapons charges; the Sykesville man was arrested at his South Broadway store Wednesday. A court date has not been set.

The store, which DiMartino owns with his son, Larry, was open yesterday. State police revoked the shop's pistol and revolver permit but are allowing him to sell long guns, such as rifles and shotguns. The store also sells hunting equipment and other items.

Police have long complained about Baltimore Gunsmith, particularly after guns used in high-profile crimes were traced to the shop.

"It's like the 7-Eleven of gun stores," said Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the police union, who echoed the private sentiments of many city police commanders yesterday.

A recent study by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms found that 19 percent of guns seized in Baltimore crimes were purchased at Baltimore Gunsmith, putting it at the top of a list of seven local gun dealers from which nearly half of the guns used illegally in Baltimore were purchased.

Wednesday's arrest was the first time police in Maryland have used a law passed last year that makes straw, or third-party, purchases illegal.

Authorities have charged several Maryland gun dealers under a similar federal law.

The state law prohibits anyone from selling a gun to another person without registering the transaction with state police. "Straw purchasing" typically refers to a growing practice in which felons pay people without criminal records to buy firearms. By TC law, felons are barred from purchasing guns.

"What we're mainly trying to do is prevent prohibited persons from acquiring firearms," said Special Agent M. Stewart Allen, who is in charge of the Baltimore office of the ATF. "A licensed dealer has an obligation to prevent that sale."

Nancy Fenton, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse -- which picketed Baltimore Gunsmith last year -- said the arrest "is a fine example of when gun laws work. You are not allowed to conduct straw purchases in this state."

DiMartino could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Several employees at the store -- with its distinctive sign in the shape of a gun -- declined comment and asked a reporter to leave.

"We have nothing to say," one man said.

Signs posted in the glass gun cabinet say: "These handguns are not for sale."

License seized

Capt. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman, said only the license could be seized, not the weapons.

He said police confiscated a .22-caliber handgun whose serial number had been scratched off. The gun had been brought in for repair and, Shipley said, "it should not have been accepted."

In interviews, Larry DiMartino has said it is virtually impossible for dealer to know whether a buyer who passes the required background checks will resell the gun on the black market.

"It's the criminals, stupid!" said a sign hanging on the door of his gun shop during a protest by gun control advocates last year. He said his shop has a large clientele in a major city, and some weapons are bound to be used in crimes.

The issue of straw purchases came to light in 1991, when a mother who managed a jewelry counter at a local department store walked into Baltimore Gunsmith and bought $6,000 worth of high-powered handguns, including an Israeli Desert Eagle .44-caliber Magnum, two Beretta semiautomatics and a laser-sighted Taurus pistol.

The woman, who was given immunity from prosecution in exchange for testifying against a friend, gave the weapons to Nathaniel Dawson Jr., who picked out the guns at the counter and gave her the cash to pay for them.

Dawson is serving four life sentences in federal prison, convicted of being a drug kingpin responsible for two murders, including the 1993 slaying of Tauris Johnson, 10. The boy was playing football in the street when he was killed during an East Baltimore shootout between a rival drug organization and Dawson's bodyguards, who were routinely armed with guns bought by the woman.

In another 1991 case, a 22-year-old woman spent $5,274 on eight powerful guns at Baltimore Gunsmith, according to court records, including a Cobray Street Sweeper 12-gauge shotgun and a Calico assault pistol.

Court papers said the real purchaser of the guns was Anthony Ayeni Jones, who was subsequently convicted of running an East Baltimore cocaine operation. He is awaiting trial on federal murder and racketeering charges. He was 18 when he bought the guns; the minimum legal age is 21.

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