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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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