Chances are Staci Dawson didn't know Brad Fox.
She does now.
Fox is the Montgomery County police officer who was gunned down in September 2012 while pursuing a suspect. It turns out the gun used to snuff out the life of this young husband, father and lawman got into his killer's hands in an illegal practice commonly referred to as a “straw purchase.”
That's what occurs when someone who is not allowed to possess a handgun – very often someone with a criminal record – gets a weapon via a third party. That person goes through the process of obtaining or purchasing a weapon, coming up clean during all the background checks, then promptly turns it over to someone who could not otherwise legally obtain a gun.
Outrage over the ease with which Fox's killer – who had no business legally possessing a firearm – got his hands on a gun led the Pennsylvania Legislature to take action. It passed the Brad Fox Law.
It provides for a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for someone convicted of taking part in a second or subsequent straw gun purchase.
Staci Dawson, meet Brad Fox.
Dawson became the first person charged under the new Brad Fox Law. She is 22 years old. Police allege the Chester resident took part in two straw gun purchases. She now faces two counts of providing false information for a firearm purchase, making false statements, tampering with public record, making false reports, illegally transferring a firearm and criminal conspiracy.
Authorities charged her in connection with the purchase of a Kel-Tec 9 mm gun at a shop in Lower Chichester. That was on Feb. 27. Just a week later, her boyfriend, David Colon, and another man, Shamar Atkinson, were taken into custody on drug charges. Police say Atkinson had the 9 mm gun Dawson bought in his possession. Dawson filed a police report saying the 9 mm and a 40-caliber Glock had been stolen. Unfortunately, she was captured on tape discussing the plan to report the guns as stolen with Colon while he was incarcerated at the county prison.
This week Dawson was held for trial on all charges.
Rosemary Epright was a little luckier. This week the Secane woman stood before a Delaware County judge to be sentenced for providing a convicted felon with a handgun.
The story is similar. She purchased a handgun, which wound up in the possession of an acquaintance with a burglary conviction, thus making him ineligible to possess a gun.
Epright's attorney argued that she had bought the gun for her friend so he could protect himself at his cash-only business. He noted the weapon had not been used in the commission of any crime and urged a sentence of probation or electronic home monitoring. The District Attorney's office was seeking a minimum of 15 months, urging the judge to send a message that guns must be kept out of the hands of criminals.
Judge James Nilon sentenced Epright to 11-22 months, and will allow her to do 60 weekends at Delaware County's prison, for a total of 120 days, then serving the remainder of the minimum balance on electronic home monitoring.
Any new offense also will see her subject to the much tougher standards of the Brad Fox Law.
We hope these two cases send a clear message to anyone considering such illegal gun transactions. Make no mistake, most of the gun crime that is eroding the quality of life in too many Delaware County towns is a result of illegal guns, not those lawfully owned for any number of reasons.
Gun crimes for the most part aren't being committed by those who cherish their Second Amendment rights. They're being committed by those with no respect for the law, and they're being aided by those who will help them acquire firearms illegally.
The Brad Fox Law is a strong deterrent against such straw purchases. Now the Delaware County District Attorney's office has shown it will not shy away from using this new crime-fighting tool.
Still want to consider taking part in an illegal gun transaction? Don't say you haven't been warned.