Monday, Dec. 20, 1999 | 10:48 a.m.
Purchases by criminals and members of radical groups are receiving more attention in light of recent high-profile arrests, including suspects in an alleged bomb plot.
"They come and collect a bunch of guns and take them back to California," said Jim Weston, deputy Reno police chief.
Preventing such purchases is legally impossible if the buyers meet all the federal criteria, Weston said.
Police keep an eye on what known gang members buy and search their backgrounds for anything, such as felony convictions, that would make it illegal for them to buy a gun.
"We do what we can without getting to the point that you are harassing those people," Weston told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "You walk a fine rope."
The Nevada-California gun connection is illustrated in the case of two California-based suspects arrested this month in an alleged plot to bomb two massive propane tanks in Elk Grove, Calif.
According to documents filed by the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, one of the suspects frequently came to Reno to buy guns.
Kevin Ray Patterson, 42, of Camino, Calif., allegedly told an undercover FBI agent at a California gun show in October that Nevada was a good place to buy guns.
"Patterson (told the agent) that one could go to Nevada and obtain a driver's license under false pretenses and then purchase any weapon desired in Nevada," according to an affidavit filed for a search warrant of Patterson's home.
A month later, Patterson encouraged the undercover agent to attend the Reno Gun Show where he said "he knew certain people at the show who would facilitate his buying firearms without completing the necessary paperwork."
On Nov. 19, Patterson attended the Reno Gun Show at the Reno Hilton and later bought a firearm part at a local gun shop for $400. He gave the part to another man, who had supplied the money for the purchase, agents said.
The next day Patterson and an undercover agent attended the gun show, and Patterson bought a rifle and some firearms parts for the agent, according to the affidavit.
In both cases, the affidavit states Patterson used a Nevada driver's license. During his purchases at the Reno Gun Show, Patterson filled out the required paperwork using his Nevada identification, the agents said.
"When a guy shows you official state ID, what's a gun dealer to do?" said Detective Tony Campagna of the Eldorado County, Calif., Sheriff's Office. Campagna has investigated militia groups and served on the same task force that tracked Patterson and his associates.
"Nevada's just over the border, and it's hard to catch this stuff."
Out-of-state residents are allowed to buy rifles and shotguns in Nevada, as long as laws of their home states aren't violated.
In California, sales of all guns fitting the definition of assault weapons will be illegal beginning Jan. 1. California has 10-day waiting period for all other gun sales, even when the firearms are bought in other states.
Nevada residents, as soon as they've passed the telephone background check, can buy any legal guns at the state's gun shows without a waiting period.
Having a state resident act as the front person for an out-of-state buyer's gun purchase is called a "straw man" scheme.
"It's illegal, but it happens a lot," said Marti McKee, public information officer for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
It's been easier to buy and sell guns in Nevada since California began enacting tighter restrictions in its state laws, she said.
"Historically, Nevada certainly has less gun restrictions than California," McKee said. "It is still safe to say California has way more gun laws than Reno does."
For example, California requires the owner of a legally manufactured assault weapon to register with the state, and that person is prohibited from ever selling it. In Nevada, owners of legal assault weapons don't have to register and can sell or trade their gun without supervision.
"In Nevada, if you meet the federal requirements, you can buy a gun. California is one of the most restrictive states around," McKee said.