PORTLAND, Maine — Police investigating the 2010 slaying of Darien Richardson in Portland say the case reached an impasse with the anonymous — but not illegal — sale of the gun used to kill her.
Now her parents are among more than 120 gun violence survivors and family members of victims who are stepping into the increasingly heated debate on gun control in Washington, D.C., this week, where they hope to convince Congress to pass what the organization Mayors Against Illegal Guns is calling “common-sense gun law reforms.”
Among the reforms Judi and Wayne Richardson are advocating for are mandated background checks for all gun buyers. That would essentially close the handshake-sale loophole often used by private gun owners and at gun shows — and which Portland police say allowed one particular firearm to go from a law-abiding citizen onto the criminal market, where it was used in two homicides, including Darien Richardson’s.
Jeff Weinstein, president of the Maine Gun Owners Association, said Tuesday that many gun rights advocates are open to discussing such a reform. But he said other demands being made by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group which Portland Mayor Michael Brennan supports, are considered out of the question by many gun owners and contribute to what’s become a political stalemate over reforms.
Among the changes many gun control groups are seeking, but gun rights groups are not willing to accept, is a ban on so-called military-style assault weapons, Weinstein said. The association head said such bans are considered by gun rights groups as a slippery slope toward a ban of all semiautomatic weapons, which by some definitions are difficult to distinguish from the guns targeted by recent ban proposals.
Weinstein, however, said he and other gun owners will consider — and in many cases agree on — the need for more background checks for buyers.
“It’s quite reprehensible when we hear of somebody using a gun for a violent crime. We realize there are events that happen that people get very upset about. This couple [Wayne and Judi Richardson] has an emotional attachment to this issue,” he said.
“We encourage everybody who buys or sells a firearm to consistently go forward with a background check,” Weinstein continued. “Any normal person, any normal firearms owner, would feel terrible knowing they sold a firearm to somebody who committed a crime a week or two later.”
That’s similar to what detectives say happened in the case of Darien Richardson, a 25-year-old South Portland native and Bowdoin College graduate who died from complications after being shot by at least one masked intruder while sleeping next to her boyfriend in their 25 Rackleff St. home on Jan. 8, 2010.
Just more than a month after that crime, the same .45-caliber gun was used to kill Serge Mulongo, 24, by Daudoit Butsitsi, who has since been convicted of the second shooting and sentenced to 38 years in prison. Police have said they do not believe the crimes are connected other than by the gun used, which investigators say Butsitsi obtained in an off-the-books sale after the first killing, perhaps from the individual responsible for Richardson’s death.
But Portland Assistant Police Chief Vernon Malloch has told reporters Butsitsi won’t reveal whom he bought the gun from, and the original lawful owner of the weapon “sold it at a gun show … to a person that he did not identify, with no records check or criminal history check done.”
As a result, police say the ownership of the gun falls into unknown territory between the gun-show sale and its use by Butsitsi, a window of time in which it was used to kill Richardson. Windows like that would be largely closed if the background check requirement now being promoted by Wayne and Judi Richardson, along with hundreds of others, in Washington are ultimately passed into law.
Weinstein said gun owners from his organization may be willing to support mandatory background checks on firearms buyers, as long as “the structure of this background check requirement does not take on … the characteristics of a ‘registration of gun owners.’ In other words, [we oppose a scenario in which] somewhere along the line somebody is keeping a huge list of all gun owners in the country.”
He said gun ownership is different than vehicle ownership, which the government tracks through registrations, a process some gun control advocates have said could be replicated for firearms.
“It’s an issue of rights,” Weinstein said. “It’s nothing similar to registering a boat or registering a car. Owning a boat or a car is not a right — it’s a privilege.”
He said Americans’ constitutional right to bear arms is important for their self-defense and for keeping the peace. A master list of all gun owners, in the wrong hands, could allow criminals — or “an abusive government” — to know whom to target for mistreatment.