Drugs for Guns: Gun Trafficking in Maine

Maine is a source state for crime guns

According to an analysis of recovered crime guns released by the New York State Office of the Attorney General, 262 guns recovered at crime scenes in New York between 2010 and 2015 originated in Maine.

According to a 2015 Harvard study, Maine and New Hampshire are the first retail sale source for 17.9% of traced handguns found at Boston crime scenes. An additional 24.4% of recovered handguns originated in I-95 southern states with weak gun regulations.

Drugs for guns

Illicit drugs flow from Connecticut and Massachusetts to Maine where demand is high and dealers can demand higher prices. Drug traffickers use proceeds from heroin and cocaine sales to buy guns through straw purchasers and in private sales which do not require a background check in Maine. The guns are trafficked south to states with stricter gun laws. “We have good gun laws in Massachusetts, but our problem is most of the guns that seem to be coming in and being used in crimes are coming from other states,” explains Boston Police Commissioner William Evans. “It’s hard for us when so many come from our border states that have lax laws.”


  • “Operation Red Side,” a partnership between New Haven police and ATF between January 2014 and March 2017, discovered that the Red Side Guerilla Brims gang out of New Haven drove to Bangor with drugs to sell or trade for at least 300 guns.  Sources: NH Register, BDN
  • A four-month investigation between the Maine State Police, York County Sheriff’s Department, and ATF resulted in the March 2015 indictment of eight persons who stole firearms in Maine and sold them for drugs in Massachusetts. According to Maine State Police, “Twenty firearms were recovered by police, but other guns were believed transported to Massachusetts to be sold for drugs.” Source: BDN
  • "We had a group, they were gang members from Lynn, hardcore gang members, stocking up with a wide variety of narcotics, renting motel rooms in central Maine, getting the word out there they were looking to trade for firearms,” explains Captain Mark O'Toole, who led the Lynn Police Department's Criminal Investigations Unit. Source: WBUR

Boston Marathon Bomber

In 2014, the Los Angeles Times reported the gun used by Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev to kill a campus police officer was originally purchased at Cabela’s in Scarborough as part of a “multiple handgun sale.” It passed through the hands of crack cocaine trafficker Biniam Tsegai before finding its way to Tsarnaev through the Maine-to-Massachusetts pipeline of drugs and guns. It is believed that Tsarnaev was able to finance his trip to Chechnya and buy bomb components through his ties to Maine’s drug trade. Source: PPH

Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act

Under current law, there is no criminal statute specifically prohibiting straw purchasing or trafficking in firearms. On May 18, 2017, Senator Susan Collins introduced the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act. Senator Collins introduced this bipartisan legislation during National Police Week “to help provide law enforcement officials with the necessary tools to stop the ‘drugs for guns’ trade and deter straw purchasers and illegal weapons traffickers. The bill would crack down on gun traffickers while fully protecting the rights of the vast majority of gun owners who are law-abiding citizens.”

Senator Collins explained this familiar pattern to her colleagues on the Senate floor, “Often, drug dealers and gang members follow a similar pattern: they target addicts who have no criminal records, and then they trade or sell them drugs in exchange for guns. These gang members, with criminal records, cross into Maine and link up with drug addicts to be their straw buyers. These are people, these addicts, with clean records who may legally purchase firearms. The addict then exchanges the gun for heroin to support his or her drug dependency, and the cycle is repeated time and again.”

The bill is supported by the Fraternal Order of Police, Major Cities Chiefs Association, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, National Tactical Officers Association, and the National District Attorneys Association.