Straw purchaser gets eight months in federal prison in ‘case study’ that follows Merrick Garland visit
The feds say Eric Blackman bought a 9mm Smith & Wesson pistol for an underage person in August 2019 that was then linked to a Dec. 22, 2019 mass shooting that injured 13.
Days after Attorney General Merrick Garland came to Chicago to promote a new program to combat gun violence in part by targeting so-called straw purchasers, a federal judge handed down an eight-month prison sentence in what the feds called a “case study” in the problem.
Federal prosecutors say Eric Blackman bought a 9mm Smith & Wesson pistol for someone who was underage in August 2019 from a licensed firearms dealer in Oak Forest. They said he later told investigators, “I just figured, what’s the worst that could happen?”
But the feds say that gun was ultimately linked to a Dec. 22, 2019 mass shooting on the South Side that injured 13 people in the 5700 block of South May Street. Of the 31 cartridge casings found at the home where the shooting happened, 13 came from the gun Blackman purchased.
By buying the gun, Blackman played the role of the so-called straw purchaser — using his lack of criminal history to purchase a gun for someone who wasn’t supposed to have it.
Before U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman handed the eight-month sentence to Blackman on Monday, Blackman told the judge, “It was basically a mistake that was made that I wish I could really take back.”
Blackman’s defense attorney, Michael Leonard, tried to underscore Blackman’s lack of criminal history and said that Blackman is “not the guy we’re looking for to solve the gun problem.”
But Gettleman noted that Blackman’s lack of criminal history helped him commit his crime.
The judge noted that Blackman didn’t seem to commit his crime for money — distinguishing his from other straw-purchasing cases. But Gettleman also said guns have “destroyed so many lives in our city” and “stray bullets are killing children almost every week in this community.” The judge rejected a request from Blackman’s attorney for no prison time.
The person Blackman purchased the gun for was caught with it a little more than a week after the mass shooting when officers saw him walking with what appeared to be a gun handle sticking out of his right coat pocket, according to court records. The feds say the firearm was loaded and had an obliterated serial number.
That person was not accused of participating in the shooting, the judge said during Monday’s hearing.
Garland paid an overnight visit to Chicago last week to tout a new Justice Department program meant to combat gun violence in Chicago and in other cities across the country, in part by targeting straw purchasers.
Asked about people who consider straw-purchasing a “paper crime” because it involves lying on a form — Blackman pleaded guilty to lying about a firearm sale — Garland called that characterization “unfortunate.”
“We do not regard this as a minor matter,” Garland said. “We regard this as a major matter.”
The question of gun violence in Chicago came up again Monday at the White House, where Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Justice Department is focused on the selling of guns “that are getting into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.”
Meanwhile, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sheri Wong wrote in a recent court memo that, “The straw purchaser plays a significant role in the gun violence that has continuously troubled the city of Chicago and threatened the public safety of its residents.”
Wong called the Blackman case “representative of the harmful ripple effect that straw-purchased firearms can have,” and she wrote that Chicago “has been inundated with violence from the actions of individuals who illegally possess firearms and then use those firearms to commit crimes.”
During Monday’s sentencing hearing, Wong told the judge, “Saving this city starts by sending a message.”
Contributing: Lynn Sweet