By Charles Jaco
May 20, 2011
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI— St. Louis has the second highest rate of young people aged 10 to 19 being killed by handguns. Only New Orleans is a more deadly city for teenagers. But where do the street guns come from? A conversation with St. Louis Police Chief Dan Isom provides some surprising answers.
Contrary to popular belief, the majority of crime guns seized by city police were not stolen. "Around 60 to 70 per-cent of the crime guns were never reported stolen," said Isom, a veteran officer who holds a Ph.D. in criminology from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "Most seem to be guns that are just passed from one person to another. There are so many guns available that most of these guns are apparently transferred from acquaintance to acquaintance."
Isom said statistics compiled by both his department and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms also show the majority of street crime guns originated with legal purchases in the state of Missouri. "The ability of anyone to buy a firearm in the state of Missouri is very easy," he said. "You can walk into a store and if you have identification, buy a handgun that same day. And there's no limit to the number of handguns you can buy."
Another problem, said Isom, is that Missouri has no laws top penalize anyone found in possession of an illegal handgun. "Illinois just passed a law with automatic jail time for anyone in possession of an illegal weapon," he said. "New York has a similar law. Here in Missouri, the state legislature refuses to pass that legislation. So we have to depend on harder police work, For example, arresting someone who is a felon in possession of a weapon. But the Missouri law allows more guns on the street."
The popular perception is that guns used in street crimes are cheap handguns, the so-called Saturday Night Specials. But police statistics show the three weapons most often seized from criminals are relatively expensive mainstream weapons--the .38 caliber Smith & Wesson, the nine millimeter Ruger pistol, and the .40 caliber Smith & Wesson.