Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Trial of Alleged Mobster Heats Up Gun Law Debate

A Boston federal court case has come under the spotlight for its glimpse into the world of alleged organized crime activity, murder, money laundering and guns. USA Today reports that the trial of alleged mobster James “Whitey” Bulger is coming closer to a resolution after prosecutors called their final witnesses and rested their case on Friday.


The criminal charges against Mr. Bulger are extensive—they include murder charges related to 19 killings, extortion and money laundering. Mr. Bulger, whose alleged reign of murder and organized crime spread through Boston for over a quarter-century, will likely see a verdict on those charges in early August.

Despite the intrigue Mr. Bulger’s alleged shootings, stranglings, and slayings bring to the courtroom, his firearms offenses are nothing to be ignored. How Mr. Bulger came into possession of an enormous cache of firearms while bearing the status of one of America’s most wanted, is also worth a close examination.

According to, while Mr. Bulger was evading arrest, he was able to purchase and possess at least 15 handguns and a 12-gauge shotgun. He purchased them in a spree-like fashion, in numerous states, and possibly from licensed dealers, gun shows, and private owners alike. Ultimately, the FBI found Mr. Bulger’s large collection of 29 weapons in the walls and bookshelves of an apartment that he and his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, had occupied. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) attempted to track down the origins of the weapons in a comprehensive report.

According to the ATF’s report, Mr. Bulger may have bought firearms from private individuals in Nevada and Utah at gun shows, where loopholes in the laws allow such sellers to sell firearms without conducting background checks or checking for identification. Similarly, Mr. Bulger may have bought his 45-caliber pistol from a private owner who placed an advertisement in a local magazine or newspaper. At least one firearm was purchased from a licensed dealer in Nevada. The owner of that shop maintained that she sold that particular gun to a friend, and not to Mr. Bulger.

Unfortunately, the ATF was largely unable to determine where many of Mr. Bulger’s firearms came from. However, the notion that a federal fugitive was able to purchase and possess so many firearms has brought the gun control debate back to the forefront of the American discussion. Many of the weapons may have been purchased after 1994, which is when the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act became effective. That Act requires licensed firearms dealers to conduct background checks on prospective gun buyers. However, the Act does not require private sellers to conduct background checks before selling their firearms.

Some commentators believe that even stricter gun control legislation, such as universal background checks, may not have prevented Mr. Bulger from purchasing firearms because he had multiple pieces of identification. In any case, the James “Whitey” Bulger case is bringing attention to the possibility of strengthening gun control laws, especially in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook elementary school tragedy.

Mr. Bulger’s fate is still in the hands of the legal system. If you have been charged with violating criminal laws, you should immediately seek out the assistance of an experienced criminal law attorney. Contact the law offices of Edward R. Molari today for a confidential consultation.