‘Operation Young Guns’: Behind the tech tracing stolen weapons used by young people

FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. – State law enforcement officers, ATF agents and sheriffs from four different counties gathered Monday in Flagler County to discuss “Operation Young Guns” and the technology used to trace stolen weapons that get into the hands of children.

“This is not just a 7th (Judicial) Circuit problem. It’s not just a state of Florida problem,” said State Attorney R.J. Larizza. “This is a national problem and national epidemic of gun violence with young people.”

Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly explained that someone underage can’t legally buy a gun and that they’re being purchased unlawfully.

“They are getting these guns on the black market, burglarizing cars and stealing them,” Staly said.

St. Johns County Sheriff Robert Hardwick and Putnam County Sheriff Gator DeLoach say so many of these crimes of gun violence involving children and young people could be avoided if gun owners didn’t make it easy for their guns to be stolen.

“All we simply do now is leave the firearm in the car with the doors unlocked and go to bed,” Hardwick said.

“You’re setting yourself up to become a victim of a crime and setting up someone else who potentially may become the unfortunate recipient of one of those rounds fired from your gun,” said DeLoach.

Sheriff Michael Chitwood did not hold back his frustration over kids and young people threatening gun violence at children’s sporting events like the recent incident at a Deland High School football game. He also had a warning for kids posting gun threats online.

“You want to post that stuff on social media, we’re coming to get you,” Chitwood said. “We will have zero tolerance in this circuit for the firearm displays that are going on. That kid was in a Deland football game. And you heard what happened in Jacksonville. We saw what happened in Philadelphia at a football game. We’re seeing these teenagers shooting up these sporting events. It’s coming to an end and we’re going to charge you to the fullest extent of the law.”

To determine how many times a stolen gun has been used to commit violent crimes, Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia County sheriff’s offices are taking part in the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN). When a gun is recovered at a crime scene, that weapon has certain microscopic markings similar to fingerprints that are transferred to a spent bullet and shell casings that are collected at the crime scene.

Investigators can take the same gun and fire it into a machine to see if it transfers the same markings.

The technology not only links a gun to a specific crime, but holds people accountable for the crimes the gun was used to commit.

Putnam County deputies confiscated 300 guns that were all recently tested. Now it’s a matter of determining how many times those guns were used in crimes and if those guns migrated from other counties or states.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is already using NIBIN, and, according to the law enforcement officers we spoke with during Monday’s news conference, it would not be surprising if JSO learns the gun that was used to kill a 13-year-old in Jacksonville was also used in another crime.

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