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Illegal Gun Dealer Provided Suspect

July 6, 1999

CHICAGO (AP) _ Benjamin Nathaniel Smith bought the guns he used in his racist shooting spree from an illegal street dealer after he was turned away by a gun shop that did the required background check, investigators said Tuesday.

The background check showed that an ex-girlfriend of Smith’s had taken out a protective order against him because of abuse.

Smith, 21, killed himself during a struggle with police Sunday night after a series of drive-by shootings of Jews, blacks and Asians in Illinois and Indiana that left two people dead and nine wounded.

The white supremacist had tried to buy two 9 mm handguns and a shotgun on June 23 at a licensed gun shop in Peoria Heights, said Jerry Singer, an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

After being rejected, Smith bought a Bryco .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun on June 26 and .22-caliber pistol on June 29 from an illegal dealer who already was being investigated by the ATF, Singer said.

Both guns were found with Smith’s body after he killed himself near the southern Illinois town of Salem. Tests showed that weapons of those calibers were used in the spree.

The name of the unlicensed dealer who sold Smith the guns has been turned over to federal prosecutors for possible charges, Singer said. The dealer’s name and other information about the purchases were not disclosed.

Tony Schneider, owner of the Heights Gun and Hunter Supplies shop in Peoria Heights, confirmed in an interview that Smith had been at his store. He said Smith was calm when told he couldn’t have the guns and several boxes of ammunition.

``He just said he’d check it out and left,″ Schneider said.

The denial was based on a two-year order for protection filed by former girlfriend Elizabeth Sahr that took effect in April 1998. Ms. Sahr had accused him of severely beating her and said she feared for her life because of his white supremacist connections.

Lt. Tony Sanders, a spokesman for the Illinois State Police, said the state issued Smith a firearm owner’s ID card on June 18 because of errors in the order for protection, which _ among other things _ listed Smith’s middle initial as ``A.″ His eye color and weight also didn’t match, Sanders said.

He said the card was revoked June 30 after Smith was rejected by the gun shop. ``The system did work and prevented him from actually getting the guns,″ Sanders said.

But that apparently didn’t prevent Smith from going to a street dealer.

A search Monday of an apartment Smith rented in Morton, just outside Peoria, turned up receipts for ammunition, boxes for two guns and stacks of hate literature, said Skokie police Sgt. Michael Ruth, a spokesman for the task force overseeing the case.

Smith had been a member of the World Church of the Creator, a white supremacist organization based in East Peoria. He had regularly distributed hate literature while he was a student at the University of Illinois and, most recently, at Indiana University in Bloomington.

He also was charged with littering in April in Wilmette, the wealthy Chicago suburb where he grew up, after he and another girlfriend were caught distributing fliers.

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