The Gunrunner and the Peacemakers 

Oakland's gun violence epidemic seems impossible to stop. But the story of a local firearms trafficker illustrates how laws that make it tougher to buy guns can help reduce violence.

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"Here's the concern I got," Special Agent Diaz told Purry. "You may think the guns are going to Mexico, but guess what? They're not."

"They're staying in Oakland," said Special Agent Martin.

"They're showing up in shootings in Oakland," said Diaz. "And it's on you. So you'd better come up with more information on Pablo, other than he buys everything and he's about whatever."

Purry tried to stick to his story.

"There's already been one shooting," pressed agent Martin, referring to an attempted robbery at a marijuana grow in the Fruitvale district.

"And they're gonna come back to you," said agent Diaz, raising his voice. "So you'd better think real hard right now about this Mr. Pablo and how the fuck we can find him to get these guns back! All right?"

Then the feds turned up the heat. Wesley Grinder, an ATF task force agent, entered the room and called Purry a liar. Grinder told Purry he would rot for decades in prison unless he gave them information that led to the recovery of the guns.

"The stuff you're talking about is bullshit. It is complete bullshit," Grinder said to Purry. '"'Cause this, this Mexican guy,' and that's bullshit. Oh my gosh, that, brother, that's complete bullshit, and you know it."

Purry caved under the pressure. He confessed to selling boxes of pistols to a man named Ramon and guns to a different Pablo who lived down the street from his mother's house in East Oakland. He admitted to selling guns to people he met in The Nacho Spot, a restaurant that used to operate out of a strip mall on 98th Avenue. Purry admitted to selling pistols to another man named Hal, and even to a random stranger in a restaurant one day. "I took the gun out, popped the bullets out," Purry told the agents about the transaction. "Cha-chi. Here you go. Gave me the thousand dollars." He claimed he sold another gun to a "white man" in the parking lot of a casino in Las Vegas. But Purry said he sold most of the guns in Oakland, mostly in street deals just off MacArthur Boulevard near the San Leandro border.

When they concluded the interrogation, the federal agents told Oakland police what they had learned, but according to OPD, most of Purry's guns were still on the streets. "The ATF fed us information as timely as they got it," Captain Joyner told me. "We followed up as fast as we could, but in the end, it just didn't pan out."

In November, Purry was convicted of lying on federal firearms purchase forms and was sentenced to eight and half years in prison. At least 23 of Purry's guns have been recovered to date, mostly by Oakland police, but a few have turned up in San Francisco, San Leandro, Antioch, and as far away as Los Angeles, said Delvecchio.

In July 2013, an Oakland police officer took a .380 Jimenez Arms pistol off a man who was wanted in connection with the shooting of a two-year-old child. Investigators later traced the gun back to Purry. In May 2014, an Oakland cop wrestled an HS Products .45-caliber pistol out of a suspect's hands before the man escaped on foot. Records revealed that Purry bought the gun on July 21, 2013 at the Las Vegas Gun Range & Firearms Center. In July 2014, Oakland cops responded to a call of shots fired at a sideshow. An armed man sprinted away from several officers and then dove through the open passenger window of another car as it sped away. But the car then crashed into a house. The man with the gun escaped on foot, but the police later recovered a .40-caliber Glock that they believe he had stashed behind a nearby fence. Investigators again traced the Glock back to Purry. In May of last year, several San Francisco cops recovered another Jimenez Arms .380 from a man who had fired the gun's entire magazine into the front of a house occupied by his pregnant girlfriend. A child was injured by falling glass in the attack. That gun also traced back to Purry.

According to Captain Joyner, gun trafficking operations like the one Purry ran are a major source of the most dangerous weapons on Oakland's streets. Other gunrunners employing less brazen strategies — for example, purchasing guns in private sales, or at gun shows and flea markets in other states, where no paperwork is required to trace the sale, and then driving them into California — are likely bringing in a far higher number of firearms into the East Bay each year.

In 2014, the ATF conducted traces on 34,890 firearms recovered by California cops. This total included seven of Purry's guns that turned up in the Bay Area. According to the ATF's trace data, most guns used to commit crimes in California were originally sold by an in-state dealer, but 29 percent were sold by dealers in other states — mainly Arizona and Nevada — and then brought into California, often illegally.

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