- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (AP) - The summer of 2012 was a dangerous one on Bloomington’s streets as clusters of teens picked up handguns and went outside to settle disputes with rivals who also had access to bullets and weapons.

The groups identified by police as “hybrid gangs” accounted for 14 shootings that year, including several that left people injured. The escalation of gun violence led police to develop new strategies, said Jack McQueen, supervisor of the Bloomington Police Department’s crime and intelligence analysis unit.

The 2012 conviction of Lamar Coleman on federal weapons charges stemming from one of the Bloomington cases put gun thieves on notice of the stiff consequences they could face.

McLean County State’s Attorney Jason Chambers said the 15 years added to sentences for gun-related crimes is justified.

“Stolen guns have the additional aggravation that they likely obtained them through a residential burglary. In addition to just possessing a stolen handgun, that means someone feels less safe because someone broke into their home to a get it,” said Chambers.

The aggressive prosecution seems to have curtailed gang-motivated crime sprees, but the troubling aspect of the source of guns for would-be criminals never leaves the radar of police assigned to tracking weapons.

The widely held perception that cities like Chicago are the source for the majority of weapons used in Central Illinois crime is incorrect, said McQueen.

Prior to 2005, weapons flowed from states like Mississippi, with its lenient tax and gun laws, to Chicago. Gangs from the middle of the state would travel to Cook County and buy as many of the cheap guns as they wanted, most selling for about $100, said McQueen.

But the gun trade shifted about nine years ago as thieves turned to local residences as a place to score guns. Gun owners who show off their new purchases can become burglary victims later, said McQueen.

“You don’t go to Chicago anymore. You go back to that house where you heard about guns. Chicago could cease to exist tomorrow. This is our problem,” said McQueen.

Data from the three largest police agencies in McLean County points to the difficulty police have in recovering stolen weapons.

Since 2011, 141 firearms have been stolen in Bloomington, with a dozen recovered. Normal police have reported 20 stolen weapons and seven recovered and the McLean County Sheriff’s Department has received 77 stolen firearms reports and located 14 guns since 2011.

To the source

With the help of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Bloomington Police Detective John Atteberry traces the make, model and serial numbers of guns used in crimes to where and when they were first sold.

In 2013, a total of 10,915 firearms were recovered and traced by the ATF for Illinois law enforcement agencies.

Budget cuts at the Illinois State Police crime lab have pared down the weapons checks strictly to guns used in crimes, he said.

“We can still do ballistics checks to see if the gun was used anywhere else in the state. That’s the big thing,” said Atteberry.

Gun owners who fail to keep adequate records, such as serial numbers, and others who don’t know their guns are even missing, can hamper the effort to locate the source of a weapon, said Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner.

Without a serial number, police cannot enter a recovered gun into the law enforcement system as stolen. Records of private gun sales must be kept for 10 years, a practice many gun owners also don’t follow.

And, police officers are not immune to gun thefts.

In 2002, thieves stole the duty weapon of a now-retired McLean County deputy from his personal vehicle parked at his home. The gun was recovered by Chicago police three years later, according to police reports.

Guns equal danger

Crime becomes far more dangerous when a gun enters a situation.

More than 35,000 people die, on average, in the U.S. each year from gunshot wounds, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Most of those deaths, about 20,000, are suicides, but another 11,000 are homicides. Of the 75,000 people who survive gun injuries, 55,000 are hurt in an attack.

McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage also said guns used in crimes are more expensive than those used in the past.

“They’re not your Saturday night specials anymore,” said Sandage, adding that stolen guns are ticking time bombs.

“It’s a huge issue. With every gun that’s stolen there’s a fear that it will be used in a crime, or against a law enforcement officer,” he said.

And, the danger grows with each stolen gun, added Bleichner, saying “One firearm on the street could be used in a multitude of crimes.”

Homes where guns are inadequately stored give thieves easy access, said police.

“It’s important for owners to buy a gun safe. They make safes that are easily accessible. Don’t just leave it on a nightstand and when you leave your house, secure your firearms,” Atteberry advised.

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Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, https://bit.ly/1fovMTD

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Information from: The Pantagraph, https://www.pantagraph.com


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