Most of the 33 people killed in Minneapolis homicides so far this year have been shot, many likely by people who cannot legally buy guns.

Law enforcement officials say people who commit violent gun crimes nearly always get their weapons through a gray market, buying them from straw buyers, or people who can legally purchase them. That has federal agents stepping up their efforts to crack down on such illegal transactions.

Many straw buyers are sophisticated, said BJ Zapor, a special agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. They often legally buy several guns at a time, or buy one gun at a time from different stores, then sell the weapons for a profit.

Zapor calls such enterprises micro-trafficking. In the past, some people caught for the offense in Minneapolis may have avoided prosecution in federal court, but not any more.

“Now we’re doing the smaller numbers if they’re associated with these crimes of violence that are happening, particularly the shootings and the homicides,” Zapor said. “So that micro-trafficking scheme — those that are bringing firearms into that community — are going to be investigated and potentially charged and prosecuted as well as the people who end up with them and using them in crime.”

The new focus is part of a collaboration between Minneapolis and Dakota County law enforcement called Project Exile. It aims to deter gun violence by issuing tougher federal penalties to people caught illegally possessing a gun or illegally supplying a gun.

A front line in the battle to keep illegal guns off the streets is the gun store, like Mark Koscielski’s shop in south Minneapolis.

Visitors must ring a bell and wait for Koscielski to buzz them in to his shop, which has covered windows to block the sunlight. Florescent lights illuminate the matte-gray and black handguns under glass cases.

Kocielski said he wants to make sure that people who buy guns from him aren’t buying them for people who aren’t supposed to have them.

Read the rest of Brandt Williams’ article at Minnesota Public Radio.

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