Opinion: Gun Control Debate Hits Close to Home

Darryl Darnell Henley laid in his casket, dressed in the same brown suit with tan detailing that he proudly wore to his high school prom. Gold, cursive letters spelled out his name on the Bible his hands cradled. Funeral assistants moved to lower the lid on his casket, but Darryl’s mother stopped them, heaving her body over his in a desperate and protective stance.

 “Wait,” she cried. “Don’t close it. Let me see my baby.” Family  rushed to comfort the grieving mother.  It was time to say goodbye. Everyone wept as the casket closed, and Darryl’s face disappeared. My cousin  was 21 years old.

According to police reports and accounts from witnesses, here’s how Darryl became one of seven victims who were fatally shot during the weekend of Aug.12-13, 2011.

It was 3 a.m. Aug. 13,2011. Darryl was at the home of his friend, Myron, playing cards and hanging out. Unsettling sounds of a fight between Myron’s mother and her boyfriend, Laron Murray, abruptly ended the friends’ fun.  Darryl and Myron intervened.

 The two young men asked Murray to leave the house. He did, but returned. That led to  another fight. When Myron and Darryl intervened again, Murray produced a handgun. He opened fire on Myron’s  mother and Darryl. He pointed the gun at Myron and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. So, Murray beat Myron with the butt of the gun.

 “He shot me man,” Darryl said, and ran out the house holding his chest. His blood trailed from the front door of the house to the side of a blue pick up truck. Darryl slumped against the truck shot eight times. The fatal bullet pierced his heart.

 Murray was charged with 1-count of First Degree Murder, 2 counts of Assault with Intent to Murder, 2-counts of Assault with a Dangerous Weapon, 1-count of Felony Firearm, 1-count of Domestic Violence and 1-count of Habitual Fourth Offense..His trial was held during the summer of 2012. A jury found him not guilty, believing Murray’s story that he fired his handgun in self defense.  It turned out that Darryl had an unregistered shotgun during the confrontation.

 Where are these illegal guns coming from?

Michigan heavily regulates gun sales. Citizens interested in owning a gun are required to take and pass the Michigan Basic Pistol Safety questionnaire. Next, they have to apply for the Ten Day Handgun Purchase Permit to buy the gun and make sure they find and buy the gun of their choice within 10 days, otherwise they have start the process all over again. When the gun is bought, they have to fill out a Michigan Pistol Sales Record form and make sure the pistol has a valid firearm Safety Inspection Certificate. 

Once the citizen has purchased his  firearm, hehas 10 days to take the gun to the local police department, have the sale recorded and have a Safety Inspection Certificate issued in hisr name. Otherwise, he is considered in violation of the law and could be arrested on a misdemeanor gun violation. Also, it is required under  Federal law that a background check be done if a firearm is purchased from a licensed dealer with a Federal Firearms License.

Gun laws across the nation generally are thorough for law-abiding citizens. However, guns obtained illegally are still an issue in many urban cities like  Detroit. That is due to a very simple fact. Everyone does not follow the law, especially criminals. The average miscreant does not buy his gun from a legal dealer.  However, someone usually does.

According to a study of  gun trafficking conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, the largest channels of gun trafficking involved illegal straw purchases where a person legally buys a firearm for someone who would not be able to pass a background check often from corrupt licensed gun dealers.

A separate study by the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms  showed that over half the guns recovered from crime scenes and criminals have been traced to 1 percent of licensed dealers.

With new firearms legislation being debated in Congress and in many state legislatures, , it is easy to wonder how any new laws would  impact the straw purchase scam.

According to CNN, handguns were used in 72 percent of gun-related homicides in 2011. However, as the Obama Administration moves forward on stopping gun violence, the focus has been on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. There has been little discussion about straw purchases or cracking down on corrupt firearms dealers.

I do not know where my cousin  Darryl acquired the illegal shotgun that led to his death. However, the handgun that Murray used to fatally shoot Darryl was legal and registered to  Murray. Darryl’s untimely death and the results of the trial shocked my family. However, learning that he possessed the illegal shotgun does not change our views on him. It just brings the need for firearms laws that would make a real difference close to home.