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Special Report: Black Market Weapons

Black market weapons and cops fighting to take them off our streets.
Keeping guns out of the wrong hands... It's a tall task police are faced with each day.

In this CBS47 Special Report, Tony Botti shows us the measures being taken to keep our community safer.

The Fresno Police Department developed a special Gun Crimes Unit two years ago. The unit focuses on taking firearms away from gang members and ex-convicts.

Tony Botti talked to Detective Adrian Alvarez, the man in charge of the unit. "Basically, I'm the follow up investigator on the cases. I build cases and make them stronger," said Det. Alvarez.

Among the guns taken during one particular bust were three pistols and a fully automatic AK-47. "It's the gang members out there running the streets, doing drive-by shootings and homicides, those are the ones we're focusing on," said Det. Alvarez.

Those criminals pay big bucks on the street for weapons like these. A 40 cal, 9 millimeter and up will cost you between $400 and $600," said Det. Alvarez.

The same guns get placed into a vicious cycle where they are used crime after crime, like the one recently recovered from a gang member that was featured in a press conference by Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer. "This handgun has been used to shoot five people in three difference incidences... to include a recent murder," said Chief Dyer.

Last year, there were a total of 330 shootings in the City of Fresno. So far this year, there have been 105. And last year, Fresno police seized a total of 921 guns and so far in 2013, officers have already taken 329 off the streets. 

As a way of tracking progress, each police district station has created a wall of gun photos. In Southeast Fresno, they've already grabbed a total of 57 this year. Officers use the pictures as a daily reminder of the lives they're potentially saving. "The people that possess these are not going to be able to kill anyone with these guns, so that's what drives them," said Det. Alvarez.

Most of the weapons are captured through undercover purchases and traffic stops, but Detective Alvarez also writes many search warrants, which prompts tactical operations where police converge on homes, ready to raid them... and seize any illegal weapons. Under the law, felons are not allowed to have any guns or ammunition. Once they are caught with either one, it opens the door to law enforcement to search their homes and often times, suspects are hiding more.

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said, "There are far too many firearms in our community today. We are seizing 6 or 7 firearms every night that are being possessed illegally by individuals involved in gangs and drugs.

On the other hand, you have lawful gun owners like John Allen, who protects his revolvers and rifles by placing them in a 500 pound safe, equipped with four steel bars, each about one-inch thick. "I always keep it locked and secured, so there's very little concern any guns will get stolen out of it... not without a couple of guys and a dolly or a crane or something," said Allen.

But police say ex-convicts will sometimes put out that effort in order to get a payoff. "They're not going into the gun dealer and buying these weapons. They're stealing them from law abiding citizens and they're selling them on the streets to other criminals," said Allen.

"Anybody that wants a gun can get a gun. It just is a matter of what the price is," said Mike Reynolds. He has been passionate about reducing gun violence ever since a criminal shot and killed his daughter, Kimber, 20 years ago in Fresno's Tower District. That tragedy led Reynolds to author California's 3 strikes law. Reynolds wants to raise awareness about another law he wrote: 10-20-Life, also known as "Use a Gun and You're Done". "It's the toughest gun violence law in the United States of America," said Reynolds.   

10-20-Life stiffens the penalty on anyone who uses a gun in the commission of a crime. Criminals get a minimum sentence of 10 years just for pulling a gun, 20 if he fires the weapon, and 25 to life if person is wounded or dies from the shooting.

10-20-Life passed back in 1997 but many people don't even know it exists. "We need to see it common vernacular where a guy says, 'Oh yeah, you use a gun and you pick that baby up and you just kissed the rest of your life goodbye.' Now that will keep guns out of the hands of people that shouldn't be using them," said Reynolds.

Taking guns out of the wrong hands is a never ending battle but despite that, Detective Alvarez manages to stay motivated. "When I do get a felon with a weapon, I know I'm putting someone away, so that's where I get my satisfaction," said Alvarez.
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