The problems, and pain, caused by illegal and stolen guns in Chattanooga
Police are seizing illegal guns that are used in violent crimes across the city. Most of the time, the guns are purchased legally but somehow fall into the wrong hands.
Norma Ferrer has been getting letters in the mail lately from colleges across the country. They want her son, Monserrate Ferrer, to play football for their team.
But Monserrate will not be attending college, or graduating high school. The 16-year-old boy was shot and killed at a home in East Ridge in February.
"Do you know how hard it is to look at a suit you bought for him to graduate, but you had to take that same suit and bury him in? Nobody knows that pain," Ferrer said.
Another teenager is charged in Monserrate’s death. East Ridge Police said the suspect stole the gun used in the shooting out of a car the week before.
"The moment you are 15 years old and you take a gun into your hands, you know you're doing something wrong," Ferrer said.
ATF Agent Ben Gibbons said once a gun is stolen, it's already in the wrong hands. And keeping track of how many of them are on the streets is nearly impossible.
"Until that firearm actually winds up being recovered on that individual or recovered somewhere, we have no way of actually determining how many firearms are technically out there that are stolen," Gibbons said.
Illegal Guns in Chattanooga
Agent Gibbons said 70 percent of guns taken off the streets in Chattanooga are stolen from local homes and vehicles.
“My son has a concealed license and they stole his pistol that was in the car," Jerry Yother said.
Pastor Jerry Yother is one of those victims. The gun his family legally purchased is now considered an illegal firearm.
"Even when you think you're in a safe neighborhood you need to think again," Yother said.
Until that gun is used in a crime, or recovered from the streets, the ATF said there's a very small chance Yother will get his gun back.
"Individual caught with an illegal firearm, I would imagine that the purpose of having that illegal firearm is not for any good reason at all," Gibbons said.
Illegal firearms are used in most of Chattanooga’s shootings and violent crimes
Already this year, there have been more than 65 shootings and 14 homicides.
Agent Gibbons said it's like an underground market in Chattanooga where the person doing the stealing is not usually the person doing the shooting. People steal guns and sell them criminals or, criminals pay someone else to buy the gun legally.
The police are blaming gang members for the majority of the city's violence, they're also blaming illegal or stolen guns for the deadly shootings.
"There's a lot of guns on the street that don't need to be there," said Sgt. Jason Lewis, with Chattanooga Police’s Organized Crime Division, "I think we're on pace to probably seize over a thousand guns this year.”
Police are seizing illegal guns that are used in violent crimes across the city.
What makes them illegal?
Sgt. Lewis said sometimes the guns are modified, such as a sawed-off shotgun. Most of the time, the guns are purchased legally but somehow fall into the wrong hands.
"Typically a lot of what we're seeing these days are the extended magazines and the handguns. That's something that's very popular within the gang members,” Sgt. Lewis said, “That's something that they dote about."
A New Way to Solve Shootings
Chattanooga Police are now depending on new technology to help solve shooting cases and even prevent some shootings from happening.
"If I were a bad guy I would be concerned, I would be trying to find a new way to do business," Sgt. Lewis said.
The new technology is called the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) and it’s already being used in major cities across the country.
NIBIN collects data from shell casings used in shootings, and stores that information into a nation-wide database.
Agent Gibbons said shell casings can lead to breakthroughs in shooting cases, because each has its own “fingerprint.”
"On the back of that primer that is a unique fingerprint, unique to that firearm and how it functioned," Gibbons said.
Once the information is uploaded to NIBIN, if the same gun is used in another shooting and shell casings are recovered, police know it’s been used by the same gun.
"If that firearm was used two weeks ago in a shooting and then it’s used this week in a shooting and Chattanooga Police collected both shell casings, and they've uploaded them to the NIBIN system, now you're able to get a link,” Gibbon said, “So we know whoever shot this week, also shot two weeks ago at this location."
Chattanooga police believe a small group of violent criminals are responsible for the majority of the shootings in the city.
If NIBIN can provide concrete evidence that multiple shootings are related, CPD said that can help in getting more charges against the shooter.
Chattanooga City Council will vote to decide if $137,000 of emergency funding can go to pay for the NIBIN system. Chattanooga Police hope to have NIBIN used in all city shootings this fall.