Gun slingers' supplier falls in federal trap

Established reputation: Fells Point store loses license after selling guns that were used by city criminals.

January 06, 2001

WHEN A STORE has been in business for 96 years, it acquires a reputation.

Baltimore Gunsmith Co. surely has: Twenty percent of the firearms seized in city crimes over the past nine years -- a total of more than 1,000 weapons -- were bought at the upper Fells Point shop.

Despite this link, city and federal officials failed for years in their efforts to close down this gun supplier for criminals. That's why the recent ruling of U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz is so important: He denied the gun store owners' appeal for a license.

Anthony and Larry DiMartino, who ran the store, whined that agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had entrapped them.

But the judge found that the store sold a veritable arsenal to two federal agents sent to establish a pattern of purchases. One of the agents said he was a Georgia resident; state law prohibits sales to out-of state residents.

In four trips, the agents bought a Colt Python .357 Magnum, an Uzi, a Smith & Wesson .38 special, several Sig Sauer 9mm pistols, a Smith & Wesson revolver and a Desert Eagle .44 Magnum.

Judge Motz found these transactions "more than sufficient to support the ATF's decision not to renew petitioners' license and to deny petitioners' application for a new license."

Particularly damaging was a surreptitiously tape-recorded conversation, in which Larry DiMartino told the Georgia man, whose female companion had identified herself as a resident of Maryland: "The only problem I got with this is this you see -- all my dealings have been with you and they're supposed to be with her. ... For all I know, you could be from ATF and I'd be screwed because I know I'm talking to you and I'm supposed to be talking with her."

Judge Motz's tough ruling is welcome.

It strengthens Baltimore's efforts to finally get gun violence under control. After more than a decade as one of the nation's deadliest cities, Baltimore's homicide rate last year finally dropped below the 300 mark.

The demise of Baltimore Gunsmith Co. will not be mourned along Broadway, which is slowly starting to share some of the success of the nearby Fells Point historic waterfront. New shops and restaurants are opening. In particular, businesses catering to Central American immigrants are thriving.

If ambitious redevelopment plans materialize, the Broadway corridor from Fells Point to the Johns Hopkins medical institutions is in for revitalization. The demise of the pirate gun shop helps that transformation.

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