The Customer Is Always Right, by Harper’s Staff

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December 1999 Issue [Readings]

The Customer Is Always Right

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From a complaint filed by the Chicago Police Department last year in a $433 million lawsuit brought by the city against twelve suburban gun dealers alleging that they are subverting Chicago’s gun-control laws. In a sting operation conducted last year, Chicago police officers posed as gang members and made scores of illegal gun purchases. Several of the stores named in the complaint, including those below, were indicted last August.

On August 10, Officer 6 entered B&H Sports and purchased two 9mm handguns. While writing up the purchase order, the salesclerk asked him what he did for a living. Officer 6 responded that he hung out on the street. The salesclerk asked what occupation he should list on the forms. Officer 6 told the salesclerk to write that he was in “sales.” Officer 6 then told the salesclerk that he had recently lost his 9mm gun. The salesclerk asked if he had been caught with it. Officer 6 responded that he had not been caught with it; rather, he had run, and he thought the police had gotten it. The salesclerk responded that as long as you do not get caught with it you have nothing to worry about.

Officer 6 then related that he believed he had figured out who had “ratted [him] out” and that he had to “settle up with him.” After the salesclerk told him to return in three days to pick up the guns, Officer 6 told him to save some “ammo” for him because he would need it. The salesclerk responded that they had plenty of ammo.

On August 14, Officer 6 returned to B&H Sports with Officer 2 and spoke to the same salesclerk. Officer 6 inquired about an Olympic Arms Model 0A-96 .223 caliber pistol with laser sights and a 30-round high-capacity clip. In discussing the gun’s laser sight, Officer 6 asked whether the bullet would hit someone in the chest if he put the “dot” on the target’s stomach. The salesclerk responded that it would. Officer 2 said he needed something for his “spot” (a street term for drug-sale location), and that he needed a size that females could hide easily. He also told the salesclerk that he wanted to buy a machine gun with a laser sight. Officer 2 told Officer 6 that he needed the guns for that night because he had “business to tend to” and the police had gotten one of his shotguns the night before. The salesclerk told Officer 2 that he could put a laser sight on a shotgun for him, but he had to remember that shotguns fire high, so if anyone comes at him he should “just go down.” Officer 2 declined the offer, saying he could “take care of more business with a machine gun.”

Officer 2 returned to B&H Sports on August 19 with Officer 3. Officer 2 told the same salesclerk that Officer 6 owed him money and was likely on the run. He stated that Officer 6 had to be dealt with before he left town and said he needed to “get a Tee for his ass.” Officer 3 agreed that they had to “take care of business today.” The salesclerk recommended an Intratec 9mm assault weapon that could fire 100 rounds per load, telling them, “You made a good choice; this will take care of business.”

On September 2, Officer 1 entered Bell’s Gun & Sport Shop to purchase firearms and ammunition. The salesclerk explained that “prefabricated” bullets contain gel and small fragments that explode upon impact. The advantage of that type of bullet, he explained, is that it “doesn’t go through the target and hit a little girl on the next block, because then you’ve bought it.” Officer 1 purchased those bullets, and the salesclerk suggested that he share the bullets with some friends so as to split the cost.

On September 8, Officer 1 returned to Bell’s and asked a salesclerk to recommend a “throwaway” 9mm or .380 caliber firearm. The salesclerk told him that one should not buy a “throwaway” gun from a gun store. He said that it is better to buy the gun with cash from someone who does not have a license. In that case, you write a certified letter addressed to yourself in which you document things about the person from whom you purchased the gun; if the gun is recovered and you need to go to court, then your lawyer will take you to court with your wife and kids and open the letter in order to prove that you bought the gun in good faith. But if something happens and you need to pin the blame on someone else, then you go home and burn the certified letter.


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