Meet LIPSTICK, Boston’s ladies involved in putting a stop to inner-city killing
A straw purchase can lead to up to 18 months in prison. Depending on the circumstances, that’s how much time you can do in Mass for buying a gun for someone who can’t legally own one.
The reality of such harsh punishments is one main reason Operation LIPSTICK takes action by educating women about the consequences of making such purchases and hiding or holding firearms for others. Their message: His crime, your time.
One driving force of LIPSTICK’s mission is a question: Where did the gun come from? This is the central inquiry when people, far too commonly women, are coerced into buying guns for their husbands, boyfriends, brothers, or anyone else with a criminal record that prevents them from passing a background check. Straw purchasing is a federal offense, and often involves women who hold some kind of a close relationship with the person who ultimately receives the gun.
In its role, LIPSTICK provides education and resources, which includes explaining how straw buying equals exploitation. It tends to happen in environments where violence is common, with most of the risk taken by the decoy doing the buying. In order to make such a purchase, someone has to lie on a federal form that asks, among other things, if they’re buying for someone who is prohibited from owning a gun due to a criminal record, or who simply doesn’t want to wait for a background check for some reason or another. As LIPSTICK, which this month opened up a brick and mortar space on Warren Street in Roxbury, teaches in counseling and courses, such fabrications run the serious risk of being exposed.
In addition to showing up at college campuses, churches, hair salons, domestic abuse programs, and other places where women of various ages and backgrounds can be reached, LIPSTICK maintains a “Women+Guns Database” that features a number of horror stories. In one instance, a gunrunner used a trio of women to straw purchase several hundred guns in Ohio and then transport them to New York before getting busted. More recently, last month two women were sent to federal prison for making false statements when questioned about purchases in Colorado.
LIPSTICK’s new Roxbury headquarters may be local to Boston, but as far as its organizers are concerned it sits at the crossroads of the entire country. Since sentences stemming from straw purchases stunt family health and development everywhere, they’re focusing across the board and have even managed to get coverage from national outlets like People while gaining the support of celebrity activists, including Meryl Streep. More than 50 people showed up at the organization’s grand opening this month, with guests including US Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. The former Boston city councilor and longtime advocate for women called for further legislative action on the gun violence front and said a strong straw-purchasing bill is needed.
“I believe it is incumbent upon me as a leader to lift up the stories and the struggles of the Massachusetts 7th [congressional district], to lift up the innovation and ideas like LIPSTICK,” Pressley told the crowd.
“Our past does not have to be our future,” LIPSTICK co-founder Ruth Rollins said in her turn. Rollins’ son, Warren Daniel Hairston, was shot and killed in 2007; for his mother, this work comes from a place of love and healing.
“As we do better, and we learn better, we can be better and we can interrupt that cycle [of gun violence],” Rollins said. “As a survivor I wanted to be part of the solution.”