News about illegal guns have been prominent in the press frequently in the past year. This year the Sheriff’s Department had one of its most successful gun buybacks in recent history as well as a large illegal gun bust in the southern part of Rochester. Gun rights have become a heated issue, with large opinions on what the second amendment grants its citizens. This makes discussing the problem of illegal guns hard without getting political. The conversation needs to start by understanding how these contraband firearms actually make it to their streets.
Guns are Stolen from Homes/ Sold for Drugs
Even though crimes are overwhelming conducted with illegal firearms, only about 15% of them were reported stolen, many were sold in the black-market for drugs.
In 2007 a Rochester teen was killed by an AR-15, the gun was traced back to a legal purchased in Batavia. The gun was originally bought at a gun show for the purpose of target shooting and hunting. The gun was then presumably sold to a local dealer for meth and cash.
This is pretty standard procedure for how guns end up in criminal circles. Handguns are by far more common in violent crimes, but rifles have been gaining ground as a standard weapon for hold ups. AR-15s, and rifles like it, are becoming more common due to their ease of access and the intimidation factor that comes with barging into a location with a high powered rifle in tow.
Guns are stolen in transit to gun stores/distributors.
In 2009 a theft involving an illegal firearm lead to an investigation and an arrest of a UPS employee in Henrietta. The employee stole 6 handguns and a 12 gauge shotgun which were being shipped to local distributor AmChar.
It is hard to track how many guns reach the streets after being ‘lost’ in shipment. Firearm dealers are mandated to report any guns that go missing in their inventories, but are not required to disclose how many guns never make it to their store. AmChar recently released that over 40 firearms went missing in transit over a five year period, and it is unclear how many reached the hands of criminals.
Shipping companies are not held to how many firearms are lost in shipping. Some companies release what is lost in transit during a given year, but many do not fearing repercussions to their credibility as delivery companies.
It is extremely difficult to trace how many guns go missing in the mail. Thousands of guns are shipped in the mail across the nation every year and serial numbers are loosely traced in these transactions. Even if a gun was discovered in a crime scene as a direct result in one of these thefts it would be hard to pin blame on any party involved.
Shipped from the south
Southern gun shows are Mecca’s for gun owners in blue states. A regular Joe could buy anything from an antique handgun to a fully loaded gatling gun at a gun show in the south east.
Many gun shows to not require background checks, receipts are un-descriptive to say the least, and the proper paper work is rarely filed to transfer ownership of a new purchased gun. These for all intensive purposes become open air black markets for those who are looking to sell them illegally.
We spoke to a local gun runner about a typical job. “Usually you have a guy down south who hooks you up.” Our unnamed source explains “He is a regular buyer, or a familiar face at gun shows. He buys twenty guns at a show but only registers ten. The other ten go to the runner. The runner pays up front for the guns then drives them to the north and sells them on the street. It is like being a drug runner, but better money and a better alibi if you get caught”
Again it can be hard to trace southern guns other than by linking the serial number back to a manufacturer the runner and the buyer are basically unknowns.
Mismanaged Inventories from Distributors
Local distributors Amchar and ATI, have had a history of mismanaging inventories. ATF inspected the facilities in 2007, 2008, and 2012. Over six hundred out of the inventory was unaccounted for. Since the inspections, only a handful of the missing weapons have been accounted for; the rest are deemed lost or stolen. Owner, Anthony DiChario, said improvements are underway to improve the security of their warehouse.
It is unclear on how many weapons enter the black market through mismanaged distributors. Although distributors are required by law to report any missing guns, there is also a laws in place that restrict the information the ATF is allowed to tell the general public about license dealers. Historically guns lost from inventories have not been rediscovered at crime scenes.
Brought in illegally from Canada or sea ports
There is a reason Rochester has two large fire arm distributors, this city is in just the right place to be a hub for distribution. We share a lake with Canada, less than a day drive to any major city in the north east. The same reasons legal distributors favor our city is the same reason gun traffickers do.
Despite what the action movies make you believe, this is probably the least likely way a gun got onto our streets. Southern guns are cheaper, and the laws are fairly lax when it comes to owning a firearm legally.
Besides of the purpose of trafficking, Rochester is merely a hub; a way point to distribute to other parts of the nation where black market guns fetch larger profits.
These various ways guns become illegal are difficult to fix with simple legislation and true fixes often get lost when gun legislation is passed. Recent gun buy backs, better monitoring of legal weapons, and cracking down on contraband dealers seem to be making steps to solving the problem, but only time will tell if these tactics are effective.