by Heather Wood Rudulph
Feb. 19, 2014
The face of gun crimes doesn’t look the way you think. While men are still the primary perpetrators, it is young women who are buying the guns that are later used in homicides, robberies, and other violent crimes. Female gun ownership as a whole is on the rise, with 80 percent of gun retailers reporting an increase in female customers in 2012, and a recent U.S. Department of Justice study found that a handgun purchased by a woman is over 50 percent more likely to be used in a crime. These women buy the guns for men who have criminal records and therefore wouldn’t pass a background check to purchase a gun on their own. This practice is calledstraw purchasing, and it’s what former deputy U.S. attorney general David Ogden says has led to”horrific acts of violence.”
Lisa (name has been changed) was just a teenager when she started trafficking guns. She’s now in her forties, has a successful career in the construction industry, and has raised her four children to be independent and accountable. But she knows there are still thousands of young women caught up in straw purchasing. She has joined Operation L.I.P.S.T.I.C.K., a Boston-based nonprofit that focuses on alleviating gun violence in inner cities, and is a mentor to young women who are slipping into the dark hole she spent 11 years crawling out of. She shares her remarkable story.
I was 14 when I bought the first gun. It was all set up. I just had to show up, sign some papers and leave with the gun. I did it for my boyfriend at first. I was in love, and I would do anything for him. He told me he needed it for his protection. Because he had a felony on his record, he couldn’t buy one himself. So I did it without thinking.
Soon, he needed me to do more. I would start to transport it, hide it, or deliver it to other people. I’m not sure it was always the same gun. Word-of-mouth got around and I developed a reputation. I was asked to buy more guns, deliver them, hide them. They paid me — sometimes in money, sometimes in drugs, sometimes both. Once I made $1,000 for something that took me about an hour to do.
I got involved in drugs at an early age, so this was a way that I could support my cocaine habit. During that time, I purchased about 10 to 15 guns for different people. It was always men. It was always guys I knew couldn’t get them for themselves. I’d buy from different gun stores, gun shows — never the same place. Every time it was just as easy as the first: Everything was all set up. I just had to pick it up. No one ever asked questions.
I know of at least one robbery where someone was killed by one of the guns. Another situation, I was just asked to bring a gun somewhere, and next thing you know, someone was getting robbed. One of the guys getting robbed saw me and started to shoot. I turned the corner and barely escaped. Later on, I was at a house getting high. The brother of the guy who was robbed came and found me. He tied me up and started beating me. He went and got that brother, who knew me from when I was young. He told them I didn’t have anything to do with the robbery, that I just bought the gun. So they let me go. I definitely thought I was going to die. I just prayed to live so I could use again. From an early age, this was the life that was introduced to me. Guns and drugs went together. There didn’t seem to be any other option.
I only kept one gun for myself, for protection. I had a lot of reasons to fear for my life. I was arrested, and I got five years probation because a gun was found in my home. It was then that I knew I had to make a decision and get out of that life.
Before then, I lived like there were no consequences. I started this life as a kid, and I had four kids of my own over the years. My kids would wake up, go to school, and come home. I’d make sure they ate and went to bed. At night, I would buy drugs, get high, sell drugs, transport guns — whatever I needed to do. Then I would come home and start the cycle all over again. I was living a double life.
I never thought about what would happen to me. I was heavily under the influence of drugs — doing cocaine every day. And I was also in denial about all the killing going on in the community. We lived with my grandmother, who took good care of us. I figured she would raise my kids if I got killed or overdosed.
On a visit to the welfare office, a woman there took me aside. She gave me information about a detox program. I left my kids with my grandmother and went through detox. Then they came to live with me while I completed a substance-abuse treatment program that supported families. When I got clean, we moved to a different neighborhood and never looked back. I basically disappeared off the face of the earth. I never saw those people again. A lot of them died or went to jail.
Because I had a gun charge on my record, I wasn’t able to get a good job for many years. So I just worked in retail, odd jobs, and got my life together. The construction industry was one of the few that would accept someone with a background like mine. It’s a good job that allows me to support my family. I just needed to do something different, do something for me. I’ve found my calling. When you came from a lifestyle like that, you have to do something that you love. If you don’t, your life will get boring, and you’ll end up back in the same situation.
All my kids are now grown. They’ve gone to college. They have apartments, cars, jobs. They are self-sufficient. I wrote my story down for them to read once I got out of detox. They never said anything to me about it, but they never got into any trouble either.
Going through all this, I’ve learned that there are things you can do differently in life. My struggles have made me stronger. But you can be strong without going through what I went through. You don’t have to accept the only life presented to you. You can go out there and make one of your own.