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Taking firepower off the street
Most guns seized were either stolen, altered
While the debate over guns and what type of guns should be allowed goes on in Sacramento and Washington, local law enforcement goes about its business, that includes taking guns out of the hands of the bad guys.
Normally, the guns seized are not the assault type weapons which are the focus of much of the political debate, but illegal weapons are seized locally and just last week, one of the most dangerous weapons confiscated by police came from a 17-year-old boy.
Last Saturday afternoon, police seized a TEC-9 submachine gun that was fully loaded. It has a clip that can carry up to 32 rounds and was similar to a gun used by a man who killed eight people in San Francisco in 1993. It is banned in the United States.
“That’s crazy,” said Porterville Chief of Police Chuck McMillan, adding it was lucky the kid did not attempt to pull it out or he may have been shot. The youth had the gun tucked into his pants and resisted officers’ attempts to search him.
McMillan and police spokesperson Dominic Barteau both said it is uncommon police take in an assault-type weapon, but seizing handguns and altered rifles is very common.
In 2010, Porterville Police officers seized 113 firearms. Last year, they took 74 firearms off the street.
The Tulare County Sheriff’s Department has seen a big increase in guns seized over the past five years. Capt. Mike Watson said the reason for the increase, is a stepped up effort by the sheriff to take guns away from gang members.
In 2008, the sheriff’s department took 114 guns off the street. That number jumped to 292 in 2011 and to 465 last year.
“We doubled the size of our gang unit,” explained Watson, agreeing that many of the guns probably came off suspected gang members.
Barteau said most gun seizures in the city occur during a search warrant, often a narcotics search warrant.
It’s Bad People
While not wanting to engage into the current political debate on gun control, Chief McMillan said the debate has gotten “sidetracked” in that it is more focused on guns rather than the people who use guns.
“There are issues with those people,” said the chief of those mass killers. “I think our area is very pro with the right to bear firearms,” he added.
“We’re taking guns away from the wrong people,” he opinioned on the gun debate.
He went on to point out while most gun owners own rifles for hunting, there is also a growing population who want hand guns. That is evidenced by the number of men and women who have taken advantage of gun classes at the police department’s shooting range.
Both McMillan and Watson said illegal guns are not a major problem in the county, but also said anytime a gun is used in a crime it is a problem. Few of the guns seized by either department is done so after a crime has been committed. Most, they said, are found during searches. The most dangerous weapons are usually found during narcotics searches, especially at illegal marijuana grow sites.
Watson said handguns are by far used most often in crimes, especially homicides.
“Where we run into assault rifles is when we do narcotics search warrants,” said McMillan. Watson agreed, but speculated assault rifles make up probably less than 5% of the guns they seize.
Both men said handguns are most commonly seized. Some are guns actually turned in by an individual that they found or no longer want.
Both men stressed they don’t harass lawful gun owners. “Our guys don’t look for guns routinely,” said McMillan.
Barteau said if they come across a reported stolen gun, if it is legal, then they attempt to return that to the rightful owner. Illegal guns are ordered by a judge to be destroyed. Ammunition is sent away as well.
“We do come across stolen guns pretty regularly,” said Barteau.
One problem is altered guns. A shotgun is legal to possess, but not if it has been altered. He showed a 12 gauge shotgun that had both the barrel and the stock cut off. He pointed out that makes it not only easier to conceal, but more lethal. “Basically, it is a handgun with a lot of firepower,” he said.
Assault rifles where the magazine clip can be easily removed are also illegal and found. He said they once recovered a Chinese 5KS assault rifle with a bayonet attached.
In nearly ever instance, the person with the gun has no right to the weapon. Parolees and those on parole are not only prohibited from possessing a gun, but possessing ammunition as well. Too often, said Barteau, the gun is in the hands of a teenager.
He explained that often gangs get the teenagers to do a lot of the dirty work because laws against juveniles are more lenient. “Gangs try to take advantage of that,” he said.
While handguns are most often seized, Barteau said you only have to be outside on New Year’s Eve to know there are a lot of assault rifles around. And, he said, most handguns are legal if the person has a permit and has not committed a crime using the gun. But, if they are modified at all, they become illegal.
As to the gun debate, McMillan said courts and police have plenty of laws to enforce and Watson said they don’t want guns in the wrong hands.
“We’re going out and trying to take guns off the streets,” he said.