Off The Streets: Keeping Guns Out of Criminals' Hands -

Off The Streets: Keeping Guns Out of Criminals' Hands

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How are criminals getting guns, and when the guns are confiscated, what becomes of them?  Tom Crabtree gets answers. How are criminals getting guns, and when the guns are confiscated, what becomes of them? Tom Crabtree gets answers.
Guns are either returned to rightful owners or shredded. Guns are either returned to rightful owners or shredded.

Machine guns. Shotguns. "Dirty Harry"-style handguns.  We're not talking about weapons carried by your police.  Those are examples of the weapons police are seizing on your streets.

How are criminals getting these guns, and when the guns are confiscated, what becomes of them?

I went to law enforcement and got answers for you.

Three-and-a-half years after a burglary at his home, Larry Greer was at the Spartanburg Public Safety Department earlier this month to reclaim one of his stolen valuables.

Nearly four months after the burglary, police recovered Greer's handgun at a crime scene. That case has gone through the court system, and Greer gets his gun back. "I'm really surprised, very happy," said Greer in an interview with 7 On Your Side.

Spartanburg police gave 7 On Your Side exclusive access to the public safety evidence room. It contained hundreds of guns police have taken off the streets since 2008.

"Some of (the guns) are maybe lawfully owned by a family member, or maybe they even lawfully owned that gun because they've not been arrested even though they may be involved in criminal activity," explained Public Safety Captain Regina Nowak. "Some of them are stolen, sold on the street. There's a whole variety of ways people get guns. We have burglaries obviously where we have guns stolen. Places that they know have a large amount of these kinds of weapons, pawn shops or places that sell handguns, are burglarized, and they'll take 40 weapons at a time and tons of ammunition because they wouldn't lawfully be able to obtain that weapon."

"It may be drug-related where the person was stopped, they were charged with a drug charge, but they also had a firearm on them. And in a lot of those cases, the people had previous convictions, and they were unable to lawfully own a gun."

"We know (that kind of weaponry is) out there. We don't let that paralyze us and keep us from being able to do our job. But the officers need to be on their toes because you never know who's carrying a gun, whether it's lawful or unlawful, and what their intent is."

The guns are no longer needed as evidence, and in the case of stolen guns, police have tried to find the rightful owners. The next step is to take the boxed guns, exactly 549, to the Omnisource metal recycling facility on Nazareth Church Road in Spartanburg County to be shredded.

There's a wide variety of weapons to be destroyed. A modified semi-automatic machine gun... a 44-magnum handgun with scope. All of the guns will be chopped into pieces. "It is the final solution," says David Reeves, a property/evidence technician with the public safety department. "There's so many guns out there. But every gun off the street is one less gun that could hurt somebody."

Two vans are stuffed with the 549 guns. The vans are carried by tractors to a recycling pit and lifted onto a conveyor belt.

Police videotape the shredding as part of the detailed process of documenting the destruction of the guns.

Within minutes, the guns, vans and other metal mixed in (to aid the shredding process) are reduced to a small pile of pieces no bigger than a fist, still warm from the intense grinding. The pile contains pieces still recognizable as gun parts.

Ray Sarmento, regional manager for OmniSource, tells me the scrap metal will be recycled at steel mills into products like rebar, the reinforcing metal used in concrete.

I asked Captain Nowak what police are doing to get guns off the streets and out of the hands of criminals. "Just everyday enforcement by officers," says Nowak. "Most of these guns were recovered from traffic stops or search warrants, just the everyday line of duty things that police officers do. It's not like we did some special sting or anything to remove these guns, just everyday enforcement and good police work. We were able to recover these guns, people weren't lawfully able to possess those guns, and that's how they ended up here today."

And is our community safer by having the guns shredded? "Oh definitely, definitely," says Nowak.

Why didn't Spartanburg Public Safety sell at least some of the 549 guns instead of destroying them? Many of the firearms were worth several hundred dollars and up. "We don't want them going back on the street," explained Nowak.

I checked with other local law enforcement agencies. The Greenville County Sheriff's Office tells me its deputies seized 154 firearms in 2012 and found 36 more that year. Guns of poor quality are shredded. Guns of good quality are taken to an authorized gun dealer and traded for equipment the sheriff's office needs.

In Henderson County, N.C., deputies seized 120 firearms last year. Some are evidence in pending cases. A few have been returned to their owners. The rest of the guns will be destroyed.

The gun shredding was done at no cost to the City of Spartanburg. In fact, the city made a little money. Omnisource is paying the city $177 for the scrap metal that used to be guns.

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