GUNSEven When a Cop Is Killed with an Illegally Purchased Weapon, the Gun Store’s Name Is Kept Secret

By Vernal Coleman

Published 14 May 2024

A 2003 law pushed by the gun industry limits the information shared by federal agents and shields gun shops from public scrutiny, but ProPublica was able to identify the store that sold the gun used in the shooting of a Chicago police officer.

Nearly three years have passed since the 2021 murder of Chicago police officer Ella French, and police and prosecutors have revealed much about her killing: the grim details of her final moments, the type of gun used to shoot her during a traffic stop and how that .22-caliber Glock made its way into the hands of the man who pulled the trigger.

But absent from the public discussion was the name of the retail shop where the gun used to kill French was purchased. Its disclosure has been hindered by a long-standing push by the gun industry to protect the identities of retailers that have sold guns used in crimes.

The law enforcement agencies that investigated her murder and prosecuted her killer could not or would not say. Those that tracked and prosecuted the man who bought the gun used to kill her have been just as silent.

ProPublica, however, has learned the name of the retailer. It’s Deb’s Gun Shop, an Indiana retailer just over the Illinois state border that has drawn attention from federal regulators because of the large number of its guns that have turned up in crime investigations. James Vanzant, an attorney for the man convicted on federal charges for buying that gun, revealed that detail in an interview.

Speaking through his attorney, Deb’s Gun Shop owner Ed Estack called French’s death a horrible tragedy but declined further comment.

Two decades ago, federal and local law enforcement routinely identified the source of guns used in crimes to members of the media or anyone else who inquired.

That changed in 2003 when Congress, bowing to pressure from the gun industry, approved legislation known as the Tiahrt amendment, named after a former Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., a gun rights champion. The amendment bars police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from disclosing any information they uncover during gun-tracing investigations, including the names of retailers.

The move hobbled efforts by cities to study gun-trafficking patterns and ended what the gun industry has called a pattern of “name and shame,” in which retailers were thrust into the spotlight for selling guns later linked to crimes.