MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Thousands of firearms are in the hands of criminals, and many of those criminals stole them from the same place.
As News Channel 3 pushes for a Gun Safe Memphis, we’re working to find out how more weapons are winding up on the street.
Police say right now, far too many guns are being left in cars and criminals know that.
“There’s definitely an uptick in guns being stolen from cars,” said Memphis Police Deputy Chief Don Crowe.
So far this year, a gun has been stolen from a vehicle every few hours in Memphis. What’s even more unnerving, those weapons are winding up in the hands of young children.
“We’ve got 12- and 13-year-olds doing aggravated robberies with pistols. Loaded guns. It’s frightening,” said Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael.
He told WREG that 80% of the kids in detention used a gun in a violent crime — a gun they or another kid likely stole from a car.
“They go out there looking for guns. That’s what they are looking for. Flipping handles,” Michael said.
That was the case in Southeast Memphis a few months ago.
Kim Urquia said she was in the gym for 30 minutes and came out to find one of her car windows busted.
“Then I started walking around my car to see if any other windows had been busted. Then I realized other cars were busted into as well,” Urquia said.
She said there were about a dozen in all. Her gun was the only thing missing.
“They hadn’t taken anyone else’s belongings. There were laptops and money. They didn’t take anything,” Urquia said.
Crowe said firearms are the hot item.
“There’s always been an underground black market. What they target has changed based on the demand of the market. Right now, it is firearms,” Crowe said.
That’s not all. MPD reports more than 40% of guns used in crimes are stolen from vehicles.
That number has drastically increased since 2014 when Tennessee legislators passed a law allowing guns in cars without a permit. Since then, there’s been a rapid rise of firearms reported stolen from vehicles.
Since 2014, almost 10,000 guns have been stolen from vehicles. At the same time, violent crime has also risen.
Crowe says that’s no coincidence.
“It’s certainly heart-wrenching for us because we know those guns are going to wind up on the streets. They’re going to be traded and sold on the streets,” he said.
MPD says officers have ramped up efforts to get illegal guns off the streets and seized almost 3,000 this year. They’ve also arrested 85% more juveniles on gun charges compared to this time last year and 42% more adults.
One arrest was this woman who told police she shot at two women with a stolen AR-15 style rifle that she bought for $200 bucks off the street.
Another was this man. Police say when they arrested him for killing a 13-year-old boy, they found a firearm in his possession, stolen from a car in Hickory Hill.
MPD said they need people to write down the gun’s serial number and report it stolen. They said they also offer free gun locks at every precinct.
Judge Michael believes citizens can help curb the problem by locking up their guns, investing in a safe and not leaving a firearm in their car overnight.
We asked him if he believed the violence would decrease if everyone locked up their guns in their cars.
“Yes. I think it would decrease significantly. Now there are so many guns out there that’s part of the problem,” he said.
While officers continue to seize the stolen weapons, he said citizens have to cut the supply and keep guns out of a criminal’s reach.
► For more stories, see the Gun Safe Memphis page on WREG.com.