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Where'd They Get Their Guns?

An Analysis of the Firearms Used in High-Profile Shootings, 1963 to 2001

Date: July 4th weekend, 1999

Location: Multiple locations in Illinois and Indiana

Alleged Shooter: Benjamin Nathaniel Smith

People Killed: Three (shooter committed suicide)

People Injured: Nine

Firearm(s): Bryco .380 pistol and a Ruger .22 pistol


Benjamin Smith, a 21-year-old member of a white supremacy group, went on a shooting rampage over the Fourth of July weekend across Illinois and Indiana. Smith targeted Jews, blacks, and Asian-Americans, shooting 11 and killing two in three days. After an interstate manhunt, Smith killed himself.

How Firearm(s) Acquired

Smith illegally purchased the two guns used in the shooting from an unlicensed dealer who had purchased them from the Old Prairie Trading Post in Pekin, Illinois. Donald R. Fiessinger bought 65 handguns from the gun store over a period of two years, and was advertising them for sale in newspapers. The high volume of purchases of cheap handguns by Fiessinger from the Old Prairie Trading Post alerted federal agents and prompted them to begin an investigation. However, it was too late to recover the weapons that Fiessinger had already sold to Smith on June 26, 1999. During the investigation, agents discovered that Fiessinger was dealing firearms without a Federal Firearms License and arrested him. Police later learned that on June 23rd, Smith had attempted to purchase two 9mm handguns and a shotgun from a Peoria Heights gun dealer, but was turned down when his background check turned up an "order for protection" filed by an ex-girlfriend. Smith was able to get an Illinois Firearm Owner's Identification Card, however, because of several errors in the order for protection, including an incorrect listing for his middle initial. The card was revoked on June 30th, two days before the shooting spree.


  1. "Illegal Dealer Sold Guns to Smith; Licensed Shop Turned Slaying Suspect Away," Chicago Tribune, 6 July 1999.
  2. Vanessa O'Connell, "Legally Sold Gun Ended Up in Killer's Hand," The Wall Street Journal, 13 July 1999, sec. B, p. 1.
  3. David Olinger, "How a Killer Got His Guns," Denver Post, 21 December 1999.


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 All contents � 2001 Violence Policy Center


The Violence Policy Center is a national non-profit educational foundation that conducts research on violence in America and works to develop violence-reduction policies and proposals. The Center examines the role of firearms in America, conducts research on firearms violence, and explores new ways to decrease firearm-related death and injury.