In September 2015, social media interest escalated in the outcome of a firearms-related court case involving a man named Dontray Mills:
Mills, then 24 years old, was arrested in April 2014 after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) investigated his involvement in multiple firearms transactions between 2012 and 2014:
A man is accused of purchasing dozens of guns and using someone else’s information to buy them. The woman whose information was used says she was shocked when law enforcement officials showed up at her door.
Now, a federal criminal complaint has been filed against 23-year-old Dontray Mills. He is accused of knowingly using false identification to buy guns.
Officials say beginning in late 2012 and through April of 2014, Mills purchased 27 firearms at places like Gander Mountain and Mills Fleet Farm — listing an address that wasn’t his.
Investigators are now looking into whether the guns were then resold, and whether any potential buyers were criminals who aren’t allowed to have firearms.
News accounts referenced “straw purchases,” a practice wherein individuals who wish to purchase firearms but are unwilling or unable to legally do so obtain them secondhand by having other parties by the weapons on their behalf. The court case involving Mills attracted little attention before the 19 August 2015 publication of a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article titled “Judge Repeats Gun Rights Slogan During Sentencing for Illegal Buys”:
In giving probation with no jail time to a Milwaukee man charged with 55 counts of buying firearms with fake identification and dealing them without a license, a federal judge delivered a message:
“People kill people,” U.S. District [Judge] Rudolph Randa said, echoing a common gun rights slogan. “Guns don’t kill people.”
Dontray Mills, 24, purchased a total of 27 firearms, mostly handguns, between December 2012 and April 2014 and pleaded guilty to one of the charges on April 22, 2014, after an ATF investigation. As a result of the conviction, Mills will never again be able to buy firearms legally.
As part of the plea bargain, prosecutors agreed with the one year of probation.
According to the meme shown above, Mills’ plea bargain was negotiated by the Department of Justice (or in some versions, the Obama administration or President Obama himself). However, Mills’ sentence was seemingly light because he pleaded guilty to only one of the numerous charges against him, and the choice of giving Mills probation rather than jail time was not the result of instructions from the Justice Department (or higher) but rather the personal discretion of Judge Rudolph Randa (who was appointed as a federal district judge by President George H.W. Bush and has a history of making controversial decisions), based on his view of Mills’ contrition and likelihood of re-offending:
Randa said he recognized the seriousness of the offense and acknowledged the problem of guns winding up in the hands of people who use them to commit violence.
But Mills, Randa said, did not come across as a typical defendant because of his good behavior since the charges and his life ambitions, which include becoming a rap musician. While on bail, Mills twice traveled to Los Angeles to work on a film and to pursue his musical aspirations.
Randa said he had seen plenty of people facing similar charges who bought firearms for friends and then took no responsibility for their actions. Mills, he said, has accepted responsibility.
As is often the case, Dontray Mills remained largely out of the news after he was sentenced, with no additional reporting revealing any details of the plea bargain under which he was sentenced to probation. Although the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin represents the federal government in criminal cases such as the one involving Mills, it’s merely one of 94 district courts that try cases (and agree to plea bargains) each day in the United States. By all credible accounts, Mills’ plea was a relatively small affair granted by a judge sympathetic to his acceptance of responsibility and non-criminal ambitions, not a function of some furtive agenda by President Obama working through the Justice Department to go easy on illegal gun traffickers.