Shawnee Walmart shooting raises questions about gun accessibility

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Clara Sloan, Staff Reporter

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A suspect from Overland Park was arrested and charged on Tuesday, Sept. 13 for attempted first-degree murder in the Sunday attack at a Shawnee Walmart in which two good Samaritans intervened.

In broad daylight, two men by the names of Arthur Fred Wyatt III and John W. Simmons III approached a young woman in the parking lot and struck her on the head. A good Samaritan attempted to come to her rescue, but was shot by one of the attackers. A second good Samaritan, a De Soto man with a concealed carry permit, then shot one of the attackers, killing him.

Wyatt, the remaining suspect arrested Tuesday, had just finished serving his seven-year prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter this past July. Simmons had a restraining order against him and was charged with several drug crimes. Convicted felons in the U.S. cannot legally obtain a gun.

So, this begs the question: how did Wyatt and Simmons have guns? How do any convicted felons obtain guns?

The answer is not simple. There are actually multiple ways criminals can get guns, but the most common is referred to as a “Straw Purchase.”

Someone buying a gun for someone they know cannot have one is already a crime. This is a Straw Purchase and is one of the few crimes where the person committing it actually signs a form under penalty of law that they know it is a federal crime to commit it. Lying on the form is a 10-year federal prison sentence. In this case, you’ve literally handed over a signed confession for a prosecutor to use against you.

In June of 2000, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives published a study of firearm trafficking investigations within a period of two years. The study found that Straw Purchasing was the most common form of illegal gun trafficking, accounting for 46 percent of all investigations, and in association with nearly 26,000 illegally trafficked firearms.

The targets for most investigations, like this one, are gun shows and flea markets, as they are major venues where Straw Purchasing takes place.

So just how many people are convicted of this crime when the firearm is found in the hand of a criminal and the form for the firearm is found with someone else’s name on it?

Virtually zero, according to the PolitiFact website. The reason: it is a priority very low on a prosecutor’s list.

Michael Bouchard, a retired assistant director for ATF, told NPR News that the cases are “hard to win and resources are limited.”

Remember the San Bernardino shooting from last December? The massacre that killed a total of 14 people during a holiday party and left 21 injured was all due to the fact that guns were illegally given to the shooters by a friend.

That is a Straw Purchase, and, yes, it can be prevented. Here’s how:

The ATF must enforce existing federal regulation on FFLs and all gun sellers at gun shows. In order for this to happen, Congress needs to increase funding for the ATF, since they currently do not have the resources and organization to effectively combat illegal gun trafficking, or to ensure that FFLs are following Federal law.

As for Wyatt and Simmons, there is not enough information released to know how they obtained their guns used in the shooting. However, it would not be surprising to learn that the signatures on the forms for the firearms were neither Arthur Fred Wyatt III’s, nor John W. Simmons III’s, but in fact someone else’s.

It is not an act of fate that nearly 12,000 Americans are killed each year from gun homicides, or that 14 mothers, fathers and friends were shot to death during an annual holiday party. The young mother involved in the shooting right here in Shawnee just weeks ago is not lucky to be alive. If the laws against Straw Purchasing had been enforced, the situation would not have happened in the first place. We can change that.


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