Investigators: North Charleston, Charleston 'source' cities for - WCBD-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Charleston, SC

Investigators: North Charleston, Charleston 'source' cities for stolen/lost guns

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Stolen guns line the walls of the ATF. Stolen guns line the walls of the ATF.
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - It’s becoming what officials call a chronic problem in South Carolina.

Lost and stolen guns ending up in cities across the state and areas across the nation.  The Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Division said South Carolina has been named a “source state,” when it comes to stolen guns.

Earl Woodham, spokesperson for the ATF, said South Carolina is the state with the 11th highest amount of stolen and lost guns.  Many of the guns, Woodham said, end up being smuggled up Interstate 95 and end up in states like New York.

In 2012, more than 250 weapons ended up in New York City.  Investigators claim the guns came from smugglers who were from North and South Carolina.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I-New York) blamed South Carolina for the illegal gun trafficking.

“What remains clear is that weak gun laws at the federal and state level have a direct, dangerous and growing impact on the safety of people in our city,” Bloomberg said.

ATF authorities said the problem lies with states that have gun laws the ATF considers too restrictive.

“More restrictive gun laws simply creates a higher demand for a product that's harder to get,” Woodham said.

Investigators claim that home burglaries are on the rise, purely because criminals are on a hunt to steal guns. The black market demand for the weapons has led to a huge increase in the amount of money people will pay for illegal guns.

“If you steal one gun, and you can take it up to a state where it's really hard to buy one, [and someone] is willing to pay $1,000 for a gun that you paid $0 for, you've just made $1,000,” Woodham said.

The problem gets more complex because guns can be used in multiple crimes.

Woodham compares guns to drugs. Drugs, he said, are used up. Guns, however, can be tied to dozens of crimes in dozens of states.

Even here in South Carolina, those stolen guns are playing a role in many crimes.

Marley Lion, 17, was killed by Ryan Deleston as Lion was sleeping in his car in the early morning hours of June 2012.  Deleston’s weapon had a scratched out serial number.

That is a sign Deleston didn’t want to be caught.

“When a gun has a serial number that has been obliterated, that is a lead indicator that whoever obliterated that serial number did not want that traced back to him or her in any fashion,” Woodham said.

In 2012, ATF records show that South Carolina had more than 2,000 guns that were reported lost or stolen.

A News 2 investigation has uncovered that two Lowcounty cities are considered “source” cities for those guns.

North Charleston is the city with the second highest amount of stolen guns, totaling 380 in 2012.  Charleston is the fourth highest with nearly 262 guns reported lost or stolen.

Those numbers have community leaders demanding answers.

“Guns are so easy to get here in the inner city,” Elder James Johnson said. “You can buy some guns for $40 here.”

Johnson is the head of the National Action Network, a group that has been growing in popularity since 2013. The group has been pushing city and state leaders to do more to get guns off of the streets.

That cry for help comes as North Charleston is dealing with a violent year.

Seven people have been killed so far in 2014, many because of guns.  Two women were killed and one was shot within hours of each other on New Year’s Day.

The National Action Network has made a push to get Governor Nikki Haley to focus on ridding the streets of guns.

“Until we put more emphasis on trying to stop the guns from coming into our communities, nothing is going to change,” Johnson claims.

Tracking and combating the growing problem of stolen of lost guns becomes even more difficult because state law does not require gun owners to keep track of their guns.

“If that person that brought the gun doesn't keep a record of what happens to that gun, the lead basically ends right there,” Woodham said.

Investigators say gun owners should take pictures of the gun, record its serial number, make and model.

ATF officials say that local authorities are doing the best they can with the money they have. The ATF has created task forces that have one clear mission: track and arrest criminals accused of trafficking guns.

The office of the ATF is filled with posters that show complicated webs of gun trafficking investigations. Often times these investigations take months or even years to complete.

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