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March 11, 2008

Warning Signs Again Go Unheeded

The lax nature of our federal and state firearms laws were again highlighted in a recent tragic shooting at a Wendy’s restaurant in West Palm Beach, Florida. On March 3, 60 year-old Alburn Blake opened fire in the restaurant with a 9mm handgun, killing an off-duty paramedic and wounding four others before taking his own life.

In January of this year, Blake purchased the Glock 17 used in the shootings through a private sale from an unidentified individual. Neither federal nor Florida state regulations require background checks for “private sales” of firearms. A 1986 law passed by the U.S. Congress at the behest of the National Rifle Association created this loophole for those not “engaged in the business” of dealing firearms (a vague standard at best, with no numerical guidelines in terms of the number of firearms one might sell). These private sellers are not even legally required to check someone’s ID to confirm their identity and state of residence.

From what we know, it appears Blake would have passed a computerized background check had he bought his gun through a federally licensed dealer. He had no criminal convictions on his record, and had not been previously adjudicated as “mentally defective.” However, Blake’s former girlfriend Mary Gianninco accused him of domestic abuse in 2006 and called him a “demented” individual who often “resorted to violence at home.”

Certain states, such as New York and New Jersey, require residents to obtain a permit before purchasing a handgun. This permitting process involves a careful screening of applicants, requiring character references, fingerprinting and an extensive background check that goes beyond running someone through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database. An applicant's mental health history is examined, and local law enforcement officers can request consent to examine medical health records and speak to doctors. These states have also taken action to close the private sales loophole which allows individuals to circumvent the background check process.

Given Gianninco’s statements about Blake, and reports from his neighbors that indicated he fought with her frequently outside his home at night, it is doubtful Blake would have been able to legally buy a handgun in Florida if the state had: a) put in place an enhanced background check system to require individuals to apply for a permit to purchase a handgun, and; b) closed the private sales loophole. Unfortunately, gun laws in the “Gunshine State” continue to remain weak and ineffective.

This case again demonstrates our lack of national resolve to craft substantive and effective gun control legislation to save lives and protect public safety. Victims and survivors of gun violence deserve more than heartfelt grief and the hollow words of politicians. They are entitled to a real response—a move towards an enhanced national background check system applicable to all gun sales aimed at denying firearms to those with proclivities towards violence and instability.


  1. The much greater and much more dangerous problem is, of course, the many criminals who already own and use handguns in criminal activities every day. How do we propose to take these guns from them, and and how do we propose to keep them from getting others?

  2. I'm not sure that having an unsubstatiated allegation of abuse from an ex-girlfriend should automatically disqualify someone from purchasing a firearm. I've had some pretty bad break-ups with women that have proven to be pretty unbalanced themselves, and they haven't hesitated to say things that were far from the truth.

    What happened to innocent until proven guilty?

  3. We'd agree that such allegations alone should not automatically disqualify someone from owning a gun in a state that has a licensing system for handgun owners. But these are pieces of information that law enforcement would certainly want to review and follow up on to make sure they are not introducing firepower into volatile domestic situations. -CSGV

  4. Certain states, such as New York and New Jersey, require residents to obtain a permit before purchasing a handgun.

    You could add Illinois, Massachusetts, and Michigan, to some extent, to that list.

    IL and MA both require licenses to own guns much like NJ. MI isn't as strict as the others but requires the individual to either obtain a "purchase permit" from the local police station or have a valid CCW license when purchasing a pistol. MI is fine with private party transfers of long guns though which separates it from MA, NJ, and IL. I'm not sure where NY as a state stands on that issue.