No prison time for Foley man who illegally sold guns, federal judge rules

Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 5:11 PM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - A federal judge on Friday rejected prosecution calls for prison for a Baldwin County man who admitted to selling guns without a federal firearms license.

Steven R. “L.O.” Hansen, 42, of Foley, initially had maintained that he was selling guns from his private collection and was not a professional gun dealer who would be subject to licensing requirements. Had he been convicted of the offense at trial, he would have faced a five-year prison term under advisory sentencing guidelines. But in November, he accepted a plea bargain that required Chief U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Beaverstock to sentence him from zero to 18 months in prison.

Beaverstock told Hansen he struggled with the appropriate punishment but concluded that prison was not appropriate. He sentenced him to the brief amount of time he was in jail after his arrest last years and an extended five-year period of supervision by the U.S. Probation Office.

The judge told Hansen that he received a “substantial break” because of the plea deal.

“Don’t squander that opportunity,” he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gloria Bedwell argued for an 18-month sentence.

“We believe under the facts and circumstances of this case, that would be a reasonable sentence,” she said.

The judge also ordered Hansen to forfeit 300 firearms and 50 devices that prosecutors contended – but the defense disputed – were silencers.

Knizley noted that in addition to the steep cost of those weapons, his client will be a convicted felon and prohibited from having a gun.

“That, in itself, is a tremendous punishment,” he said.

Hansen, a veteran who did tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, lived in Pensacola and ran military surprise store called Rugged Earth until about five years ago when he moved to a 60-acre compound in the Foley area that he purchased. His plea agreement indicates that the property has no numerical address and is not equipped with power, utilities like water, power and sewer. Hansen opened a Rugged Earth store in Foley but closed it in early 2020 and operated it online, the plea document states.

Court records indicate that Hansen had been under federal investigation since April 2021, when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives began looking into reports that he was selling firearms at gun shows and other venues. ATF agents tracked Hansen as the traveled to gun shows in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana from Oct. 4, 2021, to February of last year.

According to the plea agreement, seven firearms traces between March 18 and Dec. 27 last year turned up guns that Hansen has sold that later were involved in crimes. Those include two pistols used in crimes in Mobile within 70 and 171 days, respectively. In another instance, a convicted felon had a pistol 207 days after Hansen sold it, according to the plea document.

A multi-agency gang unit in Memphis recovered a gun in December 2021 that Hansen had sold, according to the plea agreement.

In October 2021, law enforcement in Mississippi stopped a suspect in an armed robbery in Vicksburg who told investigators that he remembered buying the gun from Hansen at a gun show in Jackson, Mississippi, in April of that year.

At the request of prosecutors, Beaverstock dismissed other charges against Hansen, including counts related to those alleged silencers, as well as allegations that he structured financial transactions to avoid reporting requirements.

“This was a case where he was selling an extraordinary number of firearms that were, basically, his personal firearms and that a real question became, had he crossed the line, if you will, to become a firearms dealer which would require a license?” Knizley said outside the courthouse.

It is difficult to determine when a private seller transitions to a business, he added.

“It’s still a gray line there,” he said. “But with the potential exposure he had with the guidelines … the trade-off was we would to get to zero to 18 (months) and, ultimately, the probation, it was a worthwhile trade-off.”

As part of his supervised release, Hansen must undergo a mental health evaluation, Beaverstock ruled. The judge ordered Hansen not to have contact with any witnesses in his case. Knizley told FOX10 News that was prompted by an ex-girlfriend that his client saw at a gun show.