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Gun vendors came forward

By David Olinger
Denver Post Staff Writer

Nov. 22, 2000 - Ron Hartmann is a retired military man. James Washington worked as an investigative specialist with the Defense Security Service, a federal agency that conducts criminal investigations for the U.S. Department of Defense.

On weekends they sometimes went to gun shows together, where they set up tables as private vendors and sold guns without background checks or paperwork. At an Adams County gun show in November 1998, one of their customers was an 18-year-old woman who bought a shotgun for a 17-year-old boy.

The sellers kept no names. But in April 1999, after the worst school shooting in U.S. history, both men recognized who those customers were. The boy was Dylan Klebold. The purchaser was Robyn Anderson, the Columbine High senior who helped Klebold and Eric Harris buy three of their four murder weapons from private vendors at a gun show.

Hartmann and Washington came forward 10 days after the massacre, volunteered information about the sale of a double-barreled shotgun to Anderson and pleaded with the FBI to protect their privacy.

Their identities remained secret until Tuesday, when their statements were released by a judicial order to produce nearly 11,000 pages of documents from the Columbine investigation.

What Hartmann and his friend did at a 1998 Colorado gun show was legal. Next year, it will not be. The Columbine disaster inspired the creation of SAFE Colorado, which successfully petitioned voters on Nov. 7 for a new law requiring background checks and customer records on every gun show sale in the state.

Hartmann and Washington both declined to comment Tuesday night. "I am not allowed to say anything about that," Hartmann said.

But John Head, co-president of SAFE Colorado, said "this demonstrates how important an avenue gun shows are for a source of guns for those who should not have them."

If Anderson had simply been asked to sign her name and pass a background check, "she wouldn't have done it," Head said. "Maybe it would have stopped the rampage if it were just a little more difficult to buy the gun." Avoided licensed dealers

The newly released documents show Anderson did tell investigators four days after the massacre that her friends deliberately avoided licensed firearms dealers, who are required by law to keep customer records and check the age and criminal background of any gun-show customer.

"Anderson stated that Klebold and Harris had been searching the gun show for private dealers so that they would not have to complete any paperwork," a federal investigator reported on April 24, 1999.

"According to Anderson, after entering the gun show, Klebold and Harris went directly to a private dealer. The dealer asked Klebold and Harris if they brought someone 18 years old this time. Klebold and Harris stated that they had."

The two boys and their 18-year-old friend went from private dealer to private dealer, buying two shotguns and a semi-automatic rifle with cash.

Anderson was unable to identify any of these private vendors by name. Nor could federal investigators, until Hartmann and Washington appeared to offer statements on the sale of one shotgun.

According to their statements, Hartmann served for 20 years in the armed forces, four years in the Navy, 16 years in the Air Force, then settled in Colorado Springs after he retired. Washington worked for the Department of Defense in Colorado Springs as a senior investigative specialist with the Defense Security Service.

They struck up a friendship over their shared interest in gun shows. They began going to shows together, where they shared the cost of renting a table, and where one could watch their inventory while the other walked around to see what was available.

Hartmann recalled that Anderson approached the tables where he and Washington had 12 to 15 guns for sale, pointed at one and said, "I would like to buy that shotgun."

She asked no questions and struck him as nervous. He surmised she had never bought a gun before.

When Hartmann questioned her age, she produced a driver's license, then handed him $245 in cash, mostly $20s. He removed the shotgun from the rack and tried to hand it to her. Klebold reached over and took it from his hands.

As the couple left, Hartmann turned to Washington and remarked, "That girl just turned 18."

Denver Post staff writer Trent Seibert contributed to this report.

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