SOUTH BEND – Indiana is not a good neighbor. It’s a deadly neighbor, exporting guns to gangs in Chicago, where every weekend and on many weekdays, too, a blizzard of bullets threatens and often kills little kids as well as intended gang targets.
     
Most Hoosiers aren’t complicit, of course, but there is blood on the hands of those, including a lot of state legislators, who proudly point to the state’s lax gun laws that make buying a gun so easy, so fast, sometimes with no questions asked.
     
They say they want it easy for “law-abiding” citizens to get guns for protection, for hunting, for collecting. Nothing wrong with those purposes, if those were the real purposes of all the purchasers. Too many have no intent to abide by the law. They want to get away with murder.
     
“Straw purchasers,” as they are called, obtain in Indiana many of the weapons used in violence in Chicago, where stiffer regulations make it more difficult to buy guns.
     
Here’s how it works: The straw purchaser is someone with no criminal or domestic violence history that would result in failure to clear a federal background check. The purchasers go to a store in Indiana, with its lax laws, and quickly get guns that wind up in Chicago, in the hands of the gang members who actually supplied the money for the purchases.
     
Chicago has filed a lawsuit against a Gary gun shop, alleging that the store knowingly sells guns to straw purchasers who intend to deliver them to the real purchasers in Chicago. According to the suit, between 2009 and 2016, the store was responsible for more than 850 guns recovered in Chicago after being used in crimes. And not just one store is involved.
     
Chicago Magazine cites statistics showing that 60% of illegal firearms recovered in Chicago came from outside Illinois. Indiana was the leading exporter of the guns.
     
I’m sure I’ll hear from some folks who don’t care whether gang members kill each other and an occasional bystander over in Chicago. But wait. There’s more. Straw buyers and other gun purchasers are taking advantage of Indiana’s lax attitude and loopholes to provide a plentiful supply of guns to the non-law-abiding shooters right here in the state.

The gun used to kill Chicago police Officer Ella French during a traffic stop Saturday was bought in a sham purchase by a Hammond, Indiana, man on behalf of another man, who was in the car French and her partner pulled over before they were shot, federal prosecutors allege, the Chicago Tribune reported. Jamel Danzy now faces charges of conspiring to violate federal firearms laws. French was killed and her partner was critically wounded over the weekend after curbing a vehicle in West Englewood. Chicago police have two people in custody connected to the shooting, one of whom was arrested in possession of a Glock semiautomatic pistol, authorities said. Charges against those two suspects have not yet been announced. But shortly after the shooting, investigators traced both the gun and the car to Danzy, a restaurant worker in Northwest Indiana, according to the complaint. Records showed that Danzy bought the gun in March from a licensed dealer in Hammond, Ind., where he claimed to be buying the weapon for himself, according to the complaint.
     
At a May 14 news conference in Indianapolis for discussion of a spike in violent crime, participants said the city’s murder rate for 2021 was surpassing Chicago’s rate. “Per capita, Indy is actually equaling 1.3 homicides for every one homicide in Chicago,” a Fraternal Order of Police spokesman said. At that pace, Indianapolis would break its record homicide total set in 2020.
     
South Bend and Mishawaka aren’t exactly free of gun violence. Nor are Fort Wayne, Evansville or any of the other Indiana cities of much size. Nor are smaller communities exempt. And the Indiana General Assembly prohibits cities and towns from doing anything stricter on guns than is provided in state law that is designed to make obtaining guns easy.
     
Fortunately, the U.S. Justice Department is creating a firearms trafficking strike force in Chicago with intent to crack down on straw purchases in Indiana. The department also added personnel to seek that goal during the Trump Administration. So, this is not just a Democratic or Republican approach.
     
Convictions are coming. Sentences could be harsh if a sentence by a federal judge last month is an indication. A man who agreed to buy a gun for someone who was under age was sentenced to eight months in federal prison, even though the seller in this case made no money off the transaction.
     
Even if Indiana hasn’t been a good neighbor, and Indiana’s legislature doesn’t want to do anything about it, the federal task force could help curb some of the violence, not only in a neighboring state, but in Hoosier neighborhoods as well. 

Colwell has covered Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.