The same year Shaaliver Douse of New York was born, a man named Brian Quigley walked into T & J Sporting Goods store in Crestview, Kentucky, and bought a brand-new black Astra 9mm semi-automatic pistol.
Fourteen years later, two rookie cops heard gunfire and saw a now 14-year-old Douse coming toward them, that very gun in hand. The cops felt compelled to fire and Drouse fell mortally wounded.
The gun fell to the street, covered with the teen’s blood. A detective noted the serial number, and it was fed into a computer link with the National Tracing Center that the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms maintains in West Virginia.
The procedure is called an E-Trace, but the name is deceptive. Federal law bars the government from maintaining a searchable digital database of gun purchases. The National Rifle Association’s buddies in Congress feel that would be too big an intrusion on “gun rights.”
So ATF clerks have to begin by telephoning the manufacturer to learn the name of the wholesaler. They then phone the wholesaler to learn the name of the retailer.
If the retailer is still in business, it is supposed to have on hand what is known as a Form 4473, recording the name of the purchaser.
Retailers that go out of business ship these forms to the tracing center, a total of more than 10 million records a year that must be searched by hand.
The particular T & J branch that sold this gun had closed, but the company itself was still in operation and reportedly was able to trace that the weapon in question had been purchased by Brain Quigley of Louisville on Feb. 28, 1999.
According to a senior law enforcement official, Quigley informed investigators that he had sold the gun in a private sale. This subsequent owner is said to have told them that the gun was stolen. He had not previously reported the theft but had been under no legal obligation to do so.
There the investigators hit a dead end, as they too often do. They will likely never know how many hands that gun passed through before it finally ended up in Douse’s hand. The cops will still try to trace the gun to whoever gave it to Douse, but unless their hard work is joined by luck, they know the likely result.
“Nothing,” says a senior law enforcement official.
If instead of going into T & J Sporting Goods to buy a gun that day Quigley had gone a little further down Highway 329 to Cottage Car Sales and purchased a vehicle, he would have been required to register it. He also would have been required to maintain liability insurance or suffer the revocation of that registration and the suspension of his driver's license.
If he subsequently sold the car, he almost certainly would have notified the appropriate authorities so he could stop paying insurance with no legal repercussions, and so there would be no question about who was legally responsible if it was involved in an accident.
If the car was stolen, he no doubt would have alerted the authorities for the same reasons.
And if a 14-year-old up the Bronx had been caught driving that car, the cops would have been able to run a real E-trace. They would have determined almost instantly every owner through the years and whether it had ever been stolen.
“Everything,” the senior law enforcement official says.
All this, with nobody suggesting any sacred rights were being trampled.
But Quigley bought a gun, not a car, back at the time of Douse’s birth. A gun that was out there through all the years of his short and troubled life, when he learned to walk and to talk, when he could have become anything, when he first began to veer into trouble.
He was arrested in May for possession of another gun, a .32 caliber revolver that had been purchased in Ohio and then used in the Bronx to shoot a 15-year-old in the shoulder. The victim had refused to identify who shot him, even though his gang reportedly had been feuding with a gang to which Douse belonged.
By Aug. 4, somebody had put the 9mm Astra in Douse’s hand. The law should have particularly harsh provisions regarding anyone who provided a youngster with a firearm.
Around 3 a.m., two rookie cops who had only been on the job since January heard gunshots and suddenly saw Douse running toward them, pistol in hand. They called for him to drop it, but he fired, either at them or the person surveillance shows him intent on shooting.
The cops fired once. You can bet nobody besides Douse’s mother feels worse than they do that the bullet proved fatal.
In a ritual performed way too many times, a police photographer snapped a picture of yet another weapon that had been purchased out of town and ended up at a New York City crime scene.
But this one was of a 14-year-old pistol spattered with the blood of the 14-year-old who had been carrying it. The gun had been out there so long and had traveled so far. The kid had been just starting out and now was going nowhere.