JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – "Firearms are disturbingly easy to come by on the streets of Jacksonville," said Assistant State Attorney Rich Mantei, who runs the special prosecution unit of the State Attorney's Office.
Mantei said investigators with his office have bought handguns, AR-15 assault rifles, AK-47s, even sawed-off shotguns from convicted felons, who he says have no business carrying, let alone selling firearms.
"We buy from people who are convicted felons," said Mantei about the focus of their undercover investigations. Under state law, a convicted felon cannot own a firearm. Many of the guns involved in undercover sales will likely to be used to commit violent crimes.
These guns are hard to trace since when they are bought on the street there is no record of the sale,
which means there is no way to track who may have used it, if it becomes evidence in a crime.
"When people who can't lawfully get guns or want to use one for some crime, they go out on the street and buy one illegally," Mantei said.
How do these guns end up on the street?
Investigators said most guns sold illegally are stolen from legitimate gun owners.
"Lots of them are stolen from homes and cars," said Mantei. "We will find guns that were reported stolen 8, 10 years ago, that were stolen in another part of the country and made their way here."
Undercover investigators have paid between $25 to a couple hundred dollars for the guns bought on the street, depending on its condition and the type of gun.
Where are they sold?
"We have purchased these guns and found them available in all areas of the city. There's no one that has any monopoly that has people selling them illegally," said Mantei.
Most of the undercover gun sales happen out in the public.
"We try to make sure they occur in a controlled environment, behind shopping centers always in a public place where we can monitor, but away from where the public would be concerned if something went wrong," said Mantei.
Age of gun dealer
Mantei said the typical illegal gun dealer is male, between the ages of 18-30.
"There are some that are younger, we've also bought guns from people who are approaching AARP status," he added.
Undercover surveillance videos
Can't get them all
"I think people would be surprised if they knew how easy it was to go find illegal firearms and how often it is that criminals will be willing to buy and sell them," said Mantei, adding there is no way to get them all off the street.
Mantei said he and his investigators have often thought about waiting to arrest a gun dealer so they can get more guns, but, "We will shut down an investigation because we think it's time to take the person off the street because they're selling too many (gun)."
Perhaps most alarming about these illegal gun sells, is that in none of the undercover videos we obtained does a single person ask the buyer what they are going to do with the gun they are purchasing.
"When they sell the gun, they don't care who it is or what they intend to use it for; they just want the money," said Mantei. "So there's no idea or care or concern about what's going to happen to that firearm."
Anyone who is aware of illegal gun sales occurring is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 866-845-TIPS. Callers can remain anonymous and be eligible for a reward of up to $3,000.