Yet before December, no one even noticed that Schmidt, 47, was amassing weapons illegally, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Instead, federal investigators zeroed in on his sports memorabilia shop around September 2011, tracking his shipments of knock-off jerseys from China for over a year before they discovered the cache of firearms.
Schmidt plead guilty to federal gun charges and the counterfeit racket last month, and will be sentenced in October. But many connected to the crime are still scratching their heads over how an ex-felon with ties to white supremacist groups was able to get his hands on so many guns.
“I can’t tell you how he got all those guns and ammunition,” U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach told the Plain Dealer. “It’s not that I won’t tell you; it’s that I can’t. This is somebody who should never have had one gun, one bullet. But he had an entire arsenal.”
Schmidt is technically banned from possessing a gun for the rest of his life. In 1989, he pulled a gun on three men during a traffic argument, killing one man and wounding the other two. He was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and served 12 years in prison.
Scott Kaufman, the head of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, was spooked after discovering he was on Schmidt’s list. “For a convicted violent felon to amass an arsenal with 40,000 rounds of ammunition with no red flags popping up is problematic,” he told the Plain Dealer. “No matter where you stand on the gun issue, it makes you wonder. The moment I saw my name in this guy’s notebook, I freaked out.”
Indeed, Schmidt might have been able to stockpile firearms so easily thanks to decades of hard work by the the gun lobby. Combating calls for stricter background checks on private gun sales, the National Rifle Association insisted the bill would create a national registry of gun owners which would be used to confiscate weapons and enact tyranny. This fearmongering has also hobbled federal law enforcement agents, who are forbidden from keeping any records of gun purchases. That means individuals like Schmidt can potentially avoid background checks when they purchase firearms, or they can obtain guns through a straw purchaser that law enforcement cannot track because any records revealing the purchaser’s activities would have been destroyed. It was luck that Schmidt was caught before he could wreak havoc — but Americans won’t get so lucky every time.