LaGRANGE — During the first half of 2015, LaGrange Police Sgt. William Nelson said the city saw a sudden increase in gun-related crimes.
The department worked feverishly around the clock to combat the problem, but Nelson said there was one question still lurking at the back of everyone’s mind.
“If officers are recovering guns from people, we wondered why — where are these people getting them from?” he said. “Are guns being funneled into the area? Is someone selling them? We started working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and with local Federal Firearm License holders (individuals or businesses licensed by the ATF to sell firearms) within the city, such as the Pawn Express and Traylor’s Jewelry and Pawn shops.”
Earlier this year, the police department asked the ATF for a report on the number of applications that were denied when people attempted to purchase a weapon during 2015.
The police department received the report in January and noticed a disturbing trend.
“We found there were 47 denials in all the Federal Firearm License holders in the area (and) 24 of them were noted convicted felons,” Nelson stated. “Some of those were in the city of LaGrange, some were not. We began to work with our local FFL stores and asked them to notify us when they had denials. We also began to investigate the reports we had.”
LPD’s Criminal Investigation Section focused on the applications that were denied because the person was listed as a convicted felon.
In the state of Georgia, it is a crime for a convicted felon — whether convicted in Georgia, another state or federal court — to possess, receive or transport a firearm unless they have been pardoned and the pardon expressly allows firearm possession. Nelson stated even if a convicted felon attempts to fill out an application for a gun, they can still be charged.
Of the 24 ATF reports that fell within the city limits of LaGrange, only eight of the applicants proved to be convicted felons, Nelson said.
“We had one person that was a victim of identity fraud,” he explained. ” … That person was able to provide us with documentation from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and we gave them more documentation in case this type of incident happens again in the future.”
Nelson said some of the people were from LaGrange; others lived in surrounding areas and drove to the city in an attempt to purchase a firearm.
Those cases are currently under investigation. No arrests have been made yet, Nelson said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation states 35,000 convicted felons tried to buy guns in 2010. Of that number, 13,262 were fugitives on the run from law enforcement. The FBI also stated there were 6 million applications for firearms that year.
It is relatively easy to legally purchase a firearm by first filling out an application, Nelson said. The Federal Firearm License store then inputs all the answers into a computer system run by the FBI.
The federal agency is looking through a person’s criminal background, domestic violence issues, drug issues and to some degree mental health issues, Nelson explained.
If an application is denied, the business is prevented by law from selling that weapon.
Both FFL stores in LaGrange have been committed to working with LPD and notifying them when an application is denied, Nelson said.
“They’re members of the community just like we are,” said Nelson. “The idea is not to prevent people from lawfully obtaining guns. It is to prevent violent offenders from obtaining guns — and prosecuting them when they try to.”
The Troup County District Attorney’s Office pledged it will prosecute the felons and charge them with criminal attempt and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
“We have an interest in keeping firearms out of the hands of convicted felons,” District Attorney Pete Skandalakis wrote via email. “By the nature of their crimes, they have forfeited their constitutional right to bear arms. Our communities are safer when those responsible for committing crimes do not possess firearms and law abiding citizens do.”
Added Nelson: “We want folks to know that if they are trying to illegally obtain a firearm in this area, there will be consequences. We’re trying to trying to make the community a better place.”
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.