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Overwhelming number of illegal street guns in hands of teens stolen from legal owners

Overwhelming number of illegal street guns in hands of teens stolen from legal owners (WKRC)
Overwhelming number of illegal street guns in hands of teens stolen from legal owners (WKRC)
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CINCINNATI (WKRC) - The headlines are as disturbing as they are commonplace, teens are not only the victims of shootings, they are sometimes the suspects. We are talking about mass shootings, accidental shootings, to random street shootings.

Local 12 has spent weeks investigating a key question, where do all these guns come from?

For many of you, you might as well admit it. You’ve become numb to the headlines as well. Shootings are coming so fast and with such volume, it's overwhelming. What is also overwhelming is the evidence that most of these shootings can be traced back to guns purchased legally, and stolen.

A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) report released earlier this year showed from 2017 to 2021, more than 96% of all guns stolen came from private citizens' cars and homes. And the number stolen is staggering, more than a million of them, meaning one gun stolen every 30 seconds.

Once law enforcement recovers a weapon that’s been used in a crime, usually the next step is the ATF National Tracing Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia.

Gun tracers contact gun manufacturers and dealers all day, every day, to find who originally purchased guns used in crimes.

Unfortunately, about 45% of the time, the dealers who sold the guns have gone out of business, or are no longer selling guns. Neil Troppman, a program manager at the Tracing Center, walked Local 12 into a large, open room filled with scores of people toiling away on thousands of boxes filled with papers.

“This is our Out of Business Records Center," said Troppman. “This is where, when a federal firearms licensee goes out of business, they send their records here for processing.”

Thousands of boxes, about seven million records per month, arrive there. Millions of forms separated, unstapled, trimmed and prepped. Each one is then scanned as a non-searchable document, approximately 250,000 scans per day.

Once ATF has the document in the computer, it is just an electronic filing cabinet. When a call comes in to trace a gun used in a crime, an ATF employee must flip through photos of the documents one-by-one, because Congress has prohibited ATF from keeping a database of guns.

Local 12 asked Troppman, “So, when I see on 'CSI', a guy just typing it into his phone, 'Oh, well, this is where it came from!'”

“That’s Hollywood,” Troppman responded.

“How long does it take to trace the average firearm?” Local 12 asked.

“A routine trace right now is about eight days,” answered Troppman.

Local 12 went to the Cincinnati district offices of Rep. Greg Landsman, (D - Ohio).

"Congress will not allow any type of repository of searchable gun data,” Local 12 said.

"That's correct,” Landsman replied. “So you're going to see an effort by many of us to push for, to try and force a vote on many of these big issues, including this one."

Landsman said a federal safe storage law is another focus for his side of the aisle, to slow the flood of guns stolen from cars and homes.

At CGIC, the Crime Gun Intelligence Center in Cincinnati, investigators connect guns to crimes. But after the case is adjudicated, they are finding a dangerous cycle.

“Perhaps that gun was stolen from somebody, and they ask for that gun to be returned to them,” said Lt. Col. Michael John, Cincinnati Police Department’s Assistant Chief at a press conference from earlier this year. “We have the legal duty to return that gun and put it back into the community, for want of a better word. We are now seeing guns that we have taken off the street multiple times.”

But a federal safe storage law is facing an uphill battle. Local 12 caught up with Senator JD Vance at a recent press event.

“Why not a federal law that requires people to store their firearms properly, then they won’t get stolen and into the hands of teens,” Local 12 asked.

“Well, one, because people are already required not to store their firearms improperly. Right?” Vance, (R - Ohio), asked rhetorically. “It’s against the law to store your firearm improperly, as it should be.”

Local 12 replied, “With due respect, there is really not a safe storage law. You don’t have to have your firearm locked up. You can have it in your glove box sitting in your car.”

“It is certainly against the law to improperly store your firearm. I’m certain of that,” retorted Vance. “I’m a gun owner myself. I can say with complete confidence that you’re not allowed to illegally store a firearm.”

The Buckeye Firearms Association knows there are no federal safe storage laws. Local 12 spoke with spokesperson Dean Rieck.

"Having storage areas is something a lot of gun owners do, and they do it voluntarily,” Rieck said.

"Are you in favor of that kind of safe storage?" Local 12 asked.

"I'm in favor of it. I'm not in favor of making it a law," Rieck responded.

Along with no national safe storage laws, about half the states lack handgun storage laws as well, including Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio.

"You can pass all the laws you want, but if you're going to change behavior, education is the way to do it, not passing more laws,” said Rieck.

The lack of state or federal action prompted Cincinnati earlier this year to pass an ordinance requiring gun locks.

“I just did a round table discussion with some students at CPS,” Mayor Aftab Pureval said. “And I asked them, ‘How easy is it to get a gun?’ And they said, ‘I can text someone in my phone right now and I’d have a gun in 30 minutes.’”

CPD statistics show that in 2019, 14% of violent crime was committed by teens. So far this year, that number is 22%. In 2019, 22% of homicides were committed by people under 25. So far this year, more than double that.

Cincinnati is now considering implementing a $1 million program called Advance Peace, which reduced gun violence in Richmond, California by more than 80%.

The leader of the group testified at a recent Law and Public Safety Committee meeting, “98% of the folks that we enroll into the fellowship on day one, are active firearm offenders committed to using a firearm as a conflict resolution tool.”

Advance Peace recruits gun carrying teens, pays them and educates them on how to lay down their weapons.

Mitch Morris is a Cincinnati community activist aiming to keep kids away from guns.

“Everybody's got to have a safe community to live in,” Morris said. “And not worry about something as simple as gun violence.”

Morris said the answer is getting kids involved in activities before they turn to guns.

“I need to keep our kids playing saxophones and pianos,” Morris said. “The things that are going to be good in life, they better get some of that life in.”

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Ethan's law, which was introduced in Congress in January, would impose a federal requirement for the safe storage of firearms. The bill is currently in committee in the house.

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