Authorities decry glut of illegal guns in Western Pa.

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Federal, state and local officials have in recent weeks brought 17 criminal cases against firearms law violators, including so-called straw purchasers who buy guns only to turn them over to others, usually felons.

For years, U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton said today, as case after case has proved that felons can easily get firearms, law enforcement has asked the question, "Where are these guns coming from? The short answer is, they're often being traded for drugs," or purchased by the girlfriend or boyfriend of the felon and then handed over.

Cooperation between local and state agencies and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can take illegally bought or owned guns off the streets, he said.

Seven of the recent cases have been brought in U.S. District Court. The other 10 cases are being prosecuted in state court, including four in Washington County, three in Allegheny County, two in Indiana County and one in Greene County.

For instance, Jeffrey Cochenour, 41, of Charleroi, is accused of going to a Gander Mountain store and saying that he was the buyer of a RomArm/Cugir 7.62 x 39 caliber rifle, when he was actually buying it for an unnamed other person.

Charles Douglas Warner, 26, of the Hill District, faces eight counts including making false statements to a gun seller, and possession of a gun while being a fugitive, being under indictment and being an illegal drug user. The indictment against him, dated Jan. 30, indicates that in 2009 he twice bought Hi-Point .40-caliber pistols, lying on his application while facing felony drug and gun charges and being a drug user.

One of the defendants, Eric James Beverly, 19, of Beltzhoover, is a fugitive. He is accused of having a woman buy guns for him at a time when he was too young to legally possess one.

Mr. Hickton said the concentration of such cases is not driven by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December, noting prior prosecutions of similar cases. He said that 80 percent of homicides in Allegheny County last year involved guns.

County Sheriff William Mullen said that his office last year processed around 15,700 permits to carry a concealed gun, up from 12,500 in 2011. He said the office turned down around 2,500 permit applications. In the last five years, he said, the office has revoked 960 permits, largely for irresponsible behavior.

"If you have a legal gun with a concealed carry permit, you don't go to the Steelers game and leave it on the [car] seat," said Mr. Hickton.

Anyone with information on an illegally purchased or held gun can call 1 (800) ATF-GUNS, or 283-4867.

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Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord


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