Chicago man gets 3 years for possession of ‘Trump gun’

CHICAGO — In a city awash with firearms, finding a gun in the possession of a convicted felon in Chicago is hardly an unusual occurrence.

But what about one emblazoned with Donald Trump’s image?

That’s what happened in October 2020 when parole officers visited Sheldon Bains’ South Side home and found a 9 mm Glock 19 pistol hidden under a mattress along with bags of marijuana, according to federal prosecutors.

Not only had the gun been custom-etched with Trump’s stern-looking face on the grip, there were also the words “Trump 45th” and a presidential seal on one side of the barrel, and the phrase “Keep America Great!” on the barrel’s other side.

The “Trump gun,” as it was referred to in court records, had belonged to Bains’ relative, Charles Johnson, but it was stolen a few months earlier, according to court records. Bains, who at the time was on parole for a robbery conviction, denied knowing that the gun was in the bedroom, and later tried to convince his 15-year-old nephew to take the rap.

“Hey, killa go on make it happen for me,” Bains told his nephew in a recorded call from Cook County Jail a few weeks after his arrest, according to court records. “They can’t do nothin’ to you. They can’t charge both of us. … If you leave me like this man, they goin — they can do somethin’ to me, man.”

In handing Bains a three-year sentence on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Mary Rowland said she found Bains’ attempt to pressure his nephew one of the more disturbing aspects of the case.

“You’re putting pressure on him to take responsibility for this gun and he’s a kid,” Rowland said, as Bains sat at the defense table in orange jail clothes. “You’re 46. Man up! … You’re the cool uncle. You should be telling him ‘Get the hell out of this life. Get as far away from it as you can.’ Don’t drag him down.”

Rowland acknowledged that for someone like Bains, who lost a father and brother to gun violence and has been shot and wounded himself on four separate occasions, having a gun is simply a way of life, but it’s something Bains is going to have to learn to live without.

“It’s a crime. You cannot have a gun,” the judge said. “But you are someone who gets shot … you’ve been shot four times. How are you going to manage that? That’s going to be a real challenge.”

Before the sentence was handed down, Bains stood in court and apologized for his actions, saying he was tired of the “revolving door” of jail and determined to do better for his family. “I got seven kids, and they haven’t had the best lifestyle,” he said. “It’s just — you know. It’s sickening.”

Bains pleaded guilty in February to possession of a gun by a felon. The guilty plea came about a year after his trial ended in a mistrial due to late disclosure of law enforcement interviews of Johnson, who had claimed Bains stole the “Trump gun” from him in 2020.

Before the judge granted the mistrial, Johnson testified he’d bought the Trump gun at Eagle Sporting Range in Oak Forest on July 30, 2020, just a few months before it was found under Bains’ mattress.

Asked why he bought that particular firearm, Johnson testified it was because of its unusual Trump markings.

“It just stood out to me,” Johnson told the jury, according to a transcript of his testimony in court records. “I never seen a gun like it.”

Bains’ cousin also testified that she had seen the gun in their house and that everyone knew about it because it had “Trump’s face.”

In asking for leniency, Bains’ attorneys, Steven Greenberg and Curtis Lovelace, painted Johnson as a liar and gun trafficker who was given immunity by prosecutors even though he admitted selling more than a dozen weapons, including one linked to a weapon used to shoot and injure a Chicago firefighter.

In particular, the defense said Johnson’s story about what happened to the Trump gun changed so many times he could not be believed. Bains’ attorneys also made a not-so-subtle jab at the former president in a recent sentencing filing.

“Circling back to the Trump theme of this case, a lie does not become the truth simply because it is repeated (“the election was stolen”),” Greenberg and Lovelace wrote, referencing Trump’s unfounded claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged.

Greenberg and Lovelace wrote it’s “disconcerting” that the U.S. attorney’s office “chose to give a scoundrel like Johnson immunity for littering the streets of Chicago with firearms, including at least one that was used to seriously injure a Chicago fireman, and in doing so embraces his lies.”