By Annette Dashofy
(With special thanks to Detective Jill Smallwood-Rustin of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Firearms Tracking Unit for her assistance with this post.)
The new class of Pittsburgh’s Citizens’ Police Academy is in session and I dropped in to pick up a segment that wasn’t offered last time. Detective Jill Rustin spoke about the Firearms Tracking Unit.
In Pittsburgh at the time of her presentation, the Pittsburgh Police were investigating 69 homicides. Of those, fifty-five are gun related, mind you this number can change on any given day at any given hour
While we may assume that the criminals on our streets are attaining their weapons from gun traffickers, the stunning fact is that the vast majority of confiscated weapons are traced back to local owners from the City of Pittsburgh and on a larger scale from Allegheny County. Most of these owners failed to handle their guns responsibly by keeping them secure and then report their guns lost or stolen when they discovered this fact.
Perhaps a family member steals a gun. The parent doesn’t want their child to be identified or possibly arrested so they don’t report the theft. Many of the guns stolen from within a household are kept in private locations that only a family member or loved one would know about.
Often, a burglar will break into a house looking for money, jewelry, or small electronics but, stumbles across a gun, it's like hitting a Jackpot! They may or may not keep the gun for themselves or they will trade or sell it for money or drugs.
Detective Rustin told of one woman who moved from Pittsburgh to a new home near Seven Springs. A confiscated gun was traced to her. When located, she said she simply had to "get out of there" so she moved, left her old home AND two firearms which belonged to her, with no regard for where they might end up.
Currently, there is no law in the Commonwealth of PA requiring citizens to report lost or stolen firearms to the police. As a result, only about 10 percent are reported to the Pittsburgh Police Department. Members of our local city council are introducing local legislation to address that very problem and will do so at post agenda meeting on Tuesday, November 18, 2008.
Which leads to the subject of straw purchasers. This is when one person buys a gun for someone else, concealing the identity of the true purchaser or possessor of the firearm. Straw purchasing is a common method for felons to attain weapons. The purchaser walks into a federally licensed firearms dealer and passes the background check before paying for a gun that will not remain with the purchaser. This is a felony violation for both the straw purchaser and the ultimate possessor.
During a slide show, Detective Rustin offered photographic evidence of the damage bullets can do to the human body. One slide showed a residential street where close to 20 casings were scattered about from a reckless person(s). And it’s about more than lives lost. Lives are changed forever. The detective told of a 14 year old girl who was shot and paralyzed at a church carnival. Not only will she never walk again, but she and her family have been forced to move from their multi-level home with its narrow doorways and hallways. The entire family’s quality of life has been forever altered.
Want some disturbing statistics? For the Pittsburgh Police in 2007, 66 of those arrested for gun violations were 16 years of age and under. Two hundred eighty two arrestees were 17 to 24 years old. In the 25 to 34 age range, there were 156 arrests made. And 104 arrests of those over 35.
At one time, the rites of passage involved having your first drink at age 21. Today, it appears to be acquiring your first firearm at the age of 21.
The police can only do so much. It’s up to us citizens to do our part, be responsible with any firearm you may own or plan to own. Here are some additional ways we can help:
Inventory all firearms you own. Record all information, such as make, model, and serial number.
Purchase a gun safe or gun cabinet (and not the type with the glass front).
NEVER store your gun in your vehicle.
Have a conversation with your family about your feelings concerning guns in the house, about guns your or they own.
Help seniors secure, sell or turn in firearms they no longer want. And make sure you do this through a licensed dealer.
Take a gun safety course to enhance your familiarity with your weapon.