In July 2016, Darnell Wardlaw walked into Total Firearms in Delhi Township, the same gun shop from which the gun used in a local murder-suicide last month was stolen.
Wardlaw plopped down an identification card, filled out some paperwork and took a gun into the shooting range.
As it turns out, it was a close call. Wardlaw was on probation for being a felon in possession of a firearm conviction in 2013. He was convicted before that of fleeing and eluding police in a car, a felony, and possession of a controlled substance.
Wardlaw used his prison ID card to rent the gun. A staff member at the gun store thought he was a Department of Corrections employee and gave him a gun. Fortunately, while Wardlaw was in the shooting range, a second look at the identification revealed it was a prisoner identification. Staff at Total Firearms called the Ingham County Sheriff’s Department Delhi Patrol and Wardlaw was arrested as he left the gun store.
State lawmakers said this situation showed a troubling lack of regulation of gun rentals, and they plan to take action to address it.
The story comes to light as Lansing Township officials continue to investigate a murder-suicide on March 26 at Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts at 3750 W. Saginaw Highway.
Both Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wrigglesworth and Carol Siemon, the county prosecutor, confirmed the details of Wardlaw’s gun rental.
As a convicted felon, Wardlaw was prohibited by state and federal law from being in possession of a firearm. He’s serving a five-year prison term at the Central Michigan Correctional Facility with a potential release date of January 2022 as the result of his arrest outside of the gun shop.
The incident was an early warning sign that security at the gun store and indoor range at 1380 N. Cedar St. was lacking.
Like Wardlaw, on March 26, Timothy Olin, 30, went to Total Firearms and rented a semi-automatic handgun to use at the facility’s shooting range, Lansing Township Police Chief Adam Kline said. After an hour, Olin “slid the gun in his pocket” and walked out. Less than an hour later he walked into JoAnn Fabrics and shot his ex-girlfriend, Rachel Duncan, 25, then turned the gun on himself.
Lawmakers noted that gun rentals are not as regulated as gun sales and it’s a “giant loophole.” Olin had been served with a personal protection order issued by Duncan in the days proceeding the attack. As a result, Eaton County Sheriff’s Department officials seized the guns he already owned. Earlier on March 26, he tried, but failed, to complete a purchase of a handgun at Dicker and Deal on Cedar Street in Lansing. The sale was declined after an instant background check revealed he had a PPO and was legally prohibited from having a gun. That’s when he drove to the gun store on the border of Mason and Delhi Township and rented a gun.
There was no background check. All he had to do was hand over a driver’s license, acknowledge the range rules and purchase the ammunition for his range time.
Officials at Total Firearms declined to provide any comment, including their names, on Saturday.
Kline said that the gun store failed to report the gun stolen until after the murder suicide. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms are reviewing the case.
“There was not a violation of the law,” said Kline. “But there may have been a violation of rules. That’s what ATF is looking at.”
Kline said federal authorities have advised the store to “tighten” its procedures and policies while the investigation continues.
But State Rep. Jon Hoadley, D--Kalamazoo, said Olin ought not have had access to the gun in the first place. Hoadley has been a champion of tightening gun access laws since an Uber driver killed two and injured two in February 2016 in Kalamazoo.
“Look, that’s a giant loophole,” Hoadley said Monday. “We didn’t even know about gun rentals until this. It seems pretty clear that something has to be done on this.”
Hoadley said he will work with State Rep. Robert Wittenberg, D-Huntington Woods, to tweak legislation the pair has already introduced related to guns. He said he would like to see a requirement that those appearing at a gun range to rent a gun are subjected to the same instant background checks as a person buying a gun would be.
“Why wouldn’t you have to undergo the same check?” Hoadley asked. “It just makes sense to me.”