Roxborough shooter bought the ammo despite his felony record— and state law allowed it

Gun Rights

Yaaseen Bivins walked into a South Philadelphia gun shop last month with a wad of cash and a mission to buy bullets.

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Bivins, 21, asked an employee of Philadelphia Training Academy for two boxes, or 100 rounds, of .40-caliber ammunition and a speed loader, a device that attaches to a gun to make it load and fire faster, according to court records.

Because Bivins is a felon, it’s illegal for him to buy ammunition. But Pennsylvania doesn’t regulate the sale or purchase of bullets. Unlike in the purchase of firearms, background checks are not required for people to buy ammunition. There is no system in place to prevent prohibited buyers from doing so.

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So Bivins paid $132.84 in cash and walked out of the gun shop, bullets in hand, and drove off.

Four days later, police said, Bivins loaded those bullets into a gun, and, alongside four others, opened fire on a group of teenagers heading to their high school locker room after a football scrimmage. Nicolas Elizalde, 14, was killed. Four other teens were injured, including a 17-year-old who was shot nine times.

Bivins was charged with murder and related crimes this week after police recovered the receipt from the ammunition purchase in a car linked to the shooting. Bivins also faces federal charges of possession of ammunition by a felon after an investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

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» READ MORE: Nicolas Elizalde, 14, laid to rest with a kindness he wasn’t afforded in death

The shooting outside Roxborough High upended the community, and left residents and city and state leaders asking where, if not at school and sporting events, the city’s children could be safe.

And the new details of how police connected Bivins to the crime, outlined in federal court documents filed this week, has brought to light how easy it can be for a felon to buy bullets.

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“When a convicted felon can walk into a ‘reputable gun shop’ and buy ammunition and go kill somebody, there’s something wrong with that setup,” Mayor Jim Kenney said Wednesday, calling this the latest example of Pennsylvania’s “wide-open” gun laws, which he says are failing Philadelphians.

The owner of Philadelphia Training Academy could not be reached for comment.

The shop did nothing illegal by making the sale. Pennsylvania does not regulate ammunition sale, and it’s not an outlier in this. There is no federal law that requires a background check to buy ammo, and only a small group of states — California, New Jersey, Illinois, New York, and Connecticut — have laws that require it.

In fact, it’s a relatively new issue being looked at by legislators, said Christian Heyne, vice president of policy for Brady, a gun-control group.

“We’re seeing more and more states start to ask the same questions,” Heyne said. “It’s a gap.”

“We should be running background checks on ammunition, to give one more opportunity to prevent a shooting,” he said.

He called it a “new and important policy” that could be “the future of gun violence prevention policies and public safety models.”

Last year, Pennsylvania State Rep. Brian Sims, a Philadelphia Democrat, introduced a bill that would have required background checks for ammunition purchases the same way most firearms require them. But once the bill was referred to the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee, it was never brought to a vote and died.

There have been unsuccessful efforts to regulate ammunition sales on the national level as well. The Ammunition Background Check Act, otherwise known as Jaime’s Law — in memory of Jaime Guttenberg, one of the 17 victims in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida — passed the House last year but has languished in the Senate.

Gun-rights advocates oppose the law, saying it limits the rights of law-abiding gun owners and would not stop criminals.

“The fallacy is that the criminals will somehow obey the law. It’s not going to work,” said Val Finnell, Pennsylvania director for Gun Owners of America. “They will always find a way to circumvent it. The only people in the end it affects is law-abiding citizens.”

Finnell said any bill in Pennsylvania that proposes background checks on ammunition or otherwise limits firearms “will not see the light of day.”

“We will fight them until they’re defeated,” he said. “Every step of the way. No compromise.”

Heyne, of the Brady group, said, “That’s not how we create laws in this country.

“Just because somebody can drive drunk,” he said, “doesn’t excuse our legislature from passing laws that give law enforcement the ability to fight back and ensure those individuals are penalized, and that we are dissuading others from getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.”

Amy Hunter, spokesperson for the National Rifle Association, questioned why, after Bivins was convicted of a felony two years ago, he was “freely roaming the streets of Philadelphia to commit more violent crimes.”

“If the laws were properly enforced on criminals, the likelihood of incidents like this occurring would be greatly diminished,” she said in a statement.

Bivins was convicted of aggravated assault, illegal racing, and causing a vehicular death while unlicensed after he struck a pregnant woman, killing her unborn child, while driving drunk and street racing in 2020. But that crime didn’t prevent him from acquiring the means to commit another, court records show.

He now stands accused of murder. This week, police also arrested Zyhied Jones, 17. Two other teens police say played a role in the shooting — Dayron Burney-Thorne, 16, and Troy Fletcher, 15 — remain fugitives.

Police say the shooters ambushed the five teens as they walked to their locker room after a scrimmage. They fled in a light green Ford Explorer. The next day, police found that car — which had been carjacked in July in Chester — abandoned in Southwest Philadelphia.

Detectives used surveillance video to piece together the movements of the shooters before the crime. They learned that about an hour before the shooting, five males drove to North Philadelphia in a Chevy Impala, then got into the Ford Explorer and headed to Roxborough.

When police recovered the Impala, they found two crumpled-up receipts from the Philadelphia Training Academy inside. Bivins’ name was printed clearly at the top.

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