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Every gun has a story

on November 9, 2010

From mid-September to mid-October there were 182 separate instances of gunfire in Richmond; that averages out to about six a day.

Not all of these shootings—tracked by the department’s ShotSpotter gunshot detection system—were motivated by violence, said Captain Mark Gagan, head of Richmond’s central police district. Many incidents were apparently celebratory, like people firing off guns at parties or after the San Francisco Giants won the World Series.

Still, many instances of gunfire in Richmond are malicious. So far this year, there have been over 100 reported cases of assault with a firearm. Last year there were 172.

That means someone in Richmond is being shot at every two or three days . Two weeks ago, a 13-year-old and 14-year-old were wounded in a drive-by shooting while walking down a street in Central Richmond. On Halloween, trick-or-treaters found a 21-year-old shot to death on a path outside the Crescent Park apartments. On the first of this month, a 22-year-old was shot dead while riding his bike south of Cutting Boulevard on 21st Street.

“Most the weapons that we see here in Richmond are illegally possessed, illegally used and not registered,” said Captain Gagan. The majority of illegal guns confiscated by the police are found during routine car stops and pedestrian stops. Some are also found when police conduct search warrants or arrest someone for a crime unrelated to the gun itself.

A few weeks ago, Officer Ray Hernandez was patrolling the streets when a woman and her young son pulled up beside his squad car and asked for help.

Officer Krueger gets some information from Officer Hernandez before going to arrest the man accused of assault.

“I was assaulted last night but the police didn’t find the guy,” she said as she pulled out her complaint document and case number to show Officer Hernandez. “He works right around the corner. He’s there right now.”

Officer Hernandez radioed for a beat officer to come. Moments later, Officer Geoff Krueger arrived at the scene. He asked the woman if the suspect had a gun.

“I know he sleeps with a gun under his bed,” she said.

“Does he carry it around with him?” Officer Krueger asked.

She said she wasn’t sure. The officer told her to stay put and he drove off around the corner to the clinic where the suspect worked as a custodian. Officer Krueger went inside and arrested the man, who was also illegally carrying a gun with a high capacity magazine.

The most common guns on Richmond’s streets are high capacity, semi-automatic handguns, just like the Ruger P-series pistol that Officer Krueger seized from the custodian.

Semi-automatic guns reload themselves automatically, but only fire one round at a time.

Officer Geoff Krueger processes the Ruger P-series pistol he seized from a man he arrested earlier in the day for assault.

High capacity magazines usually hold more than ten rounds—the maximum allowed by state law. California is one of a handful of states that have legislation banning high capacity magazines. A federal ban on high capacity magazines—part of the Federal Assault Weapons ban—expired in 2004.

When police seize a gun they will process it and later store it in a vault with all other weapons linked to open investigations. An officer will then type the gun’s make, model and serial number into the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ online eTrace system.

“The ATF researches every firearm for us and lets us know who the owner is and where that gun came from,” said Lt. Arnold Threets, head of the department’s Special Investigation Division. The department has been using the ATF’s free service since January.

Police were hoping to find a pattern so they could disrupt any possible gun-trafficking rings in the city. “We kind of suspected that guns were coming from gun shows in Reno or Arizona, or from states that have lax gun laws—guys driving out there and bringing back carloads of guns,” said Threets.

But those ATF resources revealed there was no pattern. “Most of the guns come from all over the place and they’ve been out there in circulation for three years and beyond,” said Threets.

Property Technician Charles Rigmaiden helps Captain Gagan unfold the stock to this Uzi in the gun vault.

“We know that these guys have a harder time getting a gun than you suspect,” he said. “And they pass guns around a lot.”

The cost of illegal guns can vary. Depending on the relationship between buyer and seller, semi-automatic pistols—like the Glock—have a street value of $300 to $500, said Lt. Threets. A more sophisticated weapon—like an AK-47—might sell for $1,200.

So how many illegal guns are out on Richmond’s streets? Police don’t have an answer; they can only provide figures for the numbers of guns seized.

This year, police have confiscated over 200 guns. The majority of them are tied to a criminal investigation and the rest—about two dozen—were either found or taken for safekeeping. Police confiscated 476 guns in 2009, more than a gun a day.

“Every gun has a story,” said Captain Gagan. “Each one represents a certain amount of suffering.”

Tomorrow, Richmond Confidential will take a look at the police department’s Special Investigation Division and what it’s doing to tackle gun violence.

Click here to view a larger Richmond Homicide Map | Richmond Homicide Map


  1. Ike Conoclast on November 9, 2010 at 7:36 am

    “The ATF researches every firearm for us and lets us know who the owner is and where that gun came from,”.

    Sorry, guys, put this is just plain wrong. All ATF can do (as a rule), is identify the first selling dealer and first retail purchaser – who may have sold the gun, lost it, or it might have been stolen long ago.

    • Mark Oltmanns on November 10, 2010 at 8:15 am

      Ike Conoclast,

      Thanks for your comment. I think you and Lt. Threets are on the same page. He was talking about the original dealer and purchaser too. Perhaps I failed to make that clear in my article. Lt. Threets was making the point that this information can help police figure out if there is a pattern to the guns coming into their city. Police in Richmond have so far found no such pattern.

  2. Tony Suggs on November 13, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    The ban on high capacity magazines went into effect in 2000. Anyone that owned a high capacity magazine or a weapon capable of accepting a high capacity magazine before the ban went into effect, is allowed to continue to possess those magazines.

    They can not sell, give away or transfer them to any other California resident.

  3. Tony Suggs on November 13, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    BTW, regarding the story of the man arrested carrying the pistol, he was charged with illegally carrying a firearm. He was the lawful owner of the weapon.

    Even though the pistol had a high capacity magazine, it was purchased before the ban went into effect.

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