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Officials say woman bought weapon at a gun show
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Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar and Sheriff Pat McGowan outline charges filed against Susan Berkovitz on Wednesday. McGowan says Berkovitz bought her gun at a gun show. (MPR Photo/Elizabeth Stawicki)
According to the criminal complaint against Susan Berkovitz, she told authorities that she bought the gun she allegedly used in the Hennepin County Government Center shootings at a gun show. There are several federal and state laws that regulate gun shows in Minnesota, but some say the rules need to be strengthened. Others say the laws are adequate, but say law enforcement and health professionals need to do a better job of protecting the public.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Hennepin County Sheriff Pat McGowan says Susan Berkovitz used a Smith and Wesson .38 caliber revolver in the shootings of Shelley Joseph-Kordell and attorney Richard Hendrickson. He says Berkovitz told a sheriff's deputy that she bought the weapon at a gun show over the summer and did target practice with it to learn how to use the gun.

"The murder weapon has been indentified as a five-shot, revolver manufactured between 1890 and 1910. Since Smith and Wesson prior to this time did not use serial identification numbers, the weapon trace may be difficult but ATF continues to work on this," he said.

McGowan didn't specify which gun show Berkovitz attended and didn't say who she bought the gun from. He says they're still investigating.

Berkovitz' family and neighbors say Berkovitz displayed erratic behavior and often harassed individuals for no apparent reason. Her actions, however, wouldn't have prevented her from legally buying a gun at any of the gun shows that go on almost weekly in Minnesota.

Federal law requires gun dealers to do background checks on anyone who buys a gun from a dealer's store or from a gun show.

Joe Olson, executive director of the gun rights group Concealed Carry Reform Now, says dealers can't sell to anyone who's been convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors. He also says licensed dealers can't sell a gun to anyone who's been committed to a mental hospital through a court order.

Since there are no records that Berkovitz committed any crimes or has been committed, Olson says Berkovitz would have passed a background check.

"The problem isn't that Ms. Berkovitz had a firearm. The problem is that Ms. Berkovitz hadn't been committed yet and it was clear to me from reading the articles that her family knew she should be and that they were simply delaying doing what needed to be done," he said.

But Berkovitz could have also bought a gun from a "gun collector" or from an individual who was at a gun show. These individuals are allowed to sell firearms to anyone without performing a background check. This is referred to as a "loophole" by gun control groups; one they'd like to close.

Rebecca Thoman, with Citizens for a Safer Minnesota, says it's possible that Berkovitz bought the gun from an individual dealer and wouldn't have to undergo a background check at all. Minnesota law, however, says the seller could be liable for any damage caused by the gun.

Thoman says she believes that many criminals and individuals who want to remain under the radar buy guns through collectors or individuals. She says most guns that are used in crimes aren't bought at a gun shop but through the secondary market.

"Either from an individual. From someonen who we call a straw purchaser who buys from the gins shops specifically to go sell it on the street or they get it through a gun show, through the newspaper, through the Internet. There are many mechanisms where by people sell to each other where's there's no real regulation and no background checking being done and that's where the majority of habndgun sales happen in this country," according to Thoman.

Thoman disagrees with Joe Olson's claim that the gun laws are strict enough. Gun show groups would disagree with Thoman and have been organizing to defeat any attempts to close the gun show "loophole."

Calls to the Minnesota Weapon's Collectors Association were not returned. That organization calls itself the "oldest and largest weapons collectors group in Minnesota." It also puts on several gun shows a year. The National Association of Arms Shows also didn't return calls. That organization's Web site, however, says it works to defend gun shows and opposes any efforts to close the gun show loophole.

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