One weekend in February 2006, a young man approached Mike Detty and asked about buying some AR-15s. Detty, the proprietor of Mad Dawg Global Marketing in Tucson, Ariz., is a federally licensed firearm dealer who sells the high-capacity, military-style rifles at gun shows or from the living room of his Spanish colonial-style home on the outskirts of town. AR-15s are semiautomatic, meaning that they fire one bullet for each pull of the trigger; they typically accommodate 30 rounds of .223 ammunition. This buyer said he’d pay cash for six of the rifles. Then he asked Detty when he could buy more. Detty said he’d have 20 new ones in stock the following week. The customer said he’d take them all.

“Something wasn’t right,” Detty says. “This kid is like 20 years old. Where’s the money coming from? Where are the guns going?”

Despite his suspicions, Detty decided to sell the guns. The federal background check he conducted via telephone didn’t turn up a felony conviction, protective order, or determination that the customer was mentally ill. But the following Monday morning, Detty did call the local field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the arm of the U.S. Justice Dept. charged with enforcing gun-trafficking laws.

Read the rest of Paul M. Barrett’s article at Bloomberg Businessweek.

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Image: One weekend in February 2006, a young man approached Mike Detty and…