A New York felon pleaded guilty Thursday to attempting to illegally purchase a semi-automatic pistol at a Virginia gun show in a case being touted as a key example of the cooperation between licensed firearm dealers and police in stopping prohibited gun sales.
Lamont Reaves, 27, who was convicted in 2007 of a felony crack cocaine offense in New York and also charged with earlier gun offenses, entered a guilty plea in Henrico County Circuit Court to attempting to possess a gun after having been convicted of a felony.
Judge Gary A. Hicks accepted a recommendation by prosecutor Robert C. Cerullo and sentenced Reaves to two years in prison with one year and three months suspended. Sentencing guidelines called for an active prison term of seven to 11 months.
According to a summary of evidence, Reaves, who now lives in Richmond, tried to persuade numerous federally licensed firearms dealers to sell him a gun privately and without a background check at the Showmasters gun show July 7 at the Richmond Raceway Complex.
The dealers refused and alerted state trooper D.M. Sottile, who eventually identified Reaves and arrested him after determining he had a felony record.
Cerullo, a former police officer who prosecutes many of Henrico’s gun crimes, said the case is indicative of the cooperation between firearms dealers at gun shows and state police to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands.
Felons, and in many cases people with misdemeanor convictions, are prohibited by law from buying or possessing firearms. So are people who have been involuntarily committed for mental illness.
Sottile and other state troopers have developed a rapport with firearms dealers at Virginia gun shows, and those relationships have helped reduce illegal gun sales, authorities said.
“Licensed gun dealers play a major role in stopping illegal gun purchases, especially straw purchases,” Sottile said. “In my experience at gun shows and licensed firearms storefronts throughout the Richmond area, dealers have contacted me if they suspect someone — through his or her conversation with the customer or the customer’s odd behavior — is attempting to make an illegal purchase.”
“I can’t thank the dealers enough with whom I work with for their help in aiding in criminal prosecution,” he added.
Cerullo said several firearms dealers from whom Reaves attempted to buy a gun in July were willing to testify against him if he had decided to take his case to trial.
In his report, Sottile said numerous dealers flagged him down at the gun show to advise that Reaves had asked them where he could buy a gun through a private sale and not through a licensed dealer.
Jerry Cochran, owner of Trader Jerry’s, and Gary Lewis, owner of Gary’s Guns and Transfers, informed Sottile of their encounters with Reaves as he went table to table trying to buy a gun, according to evidence.
How private sellers of firearms interact with police at gun shows is less clear. Under current Virginia law, private sellers can conduct sales without submitting a background check of the buyer.
Gun control advocates have for years urged the Virginia General Assembly to close what they call the “gun show loophole” and require background checks for every buyer. The gun lobby has argued that private sales make up a very small percentage of firearms transactions and that many of the sellers take steps to ensure they aren’t selling a gun to a prohibited person.
Sottile said some private sellers at gun shows have signs indicating they have a private collection for sale, while others have no signage.
Cerullo said it’s difficult to say what percentage of gun show transactions are private because they aren’t tracked.
“I’ve heard the argument from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, but how does anyone say whether they are numerous or not if we don’t track it?” Cerullo said. “They say it happens all the time. Maybe. But then maybe not.”