Guns! Guns! Guns!

Is the MPD finding more firearms?

The MPD's weekly Code For meetings at City Hall, where precinct commanders give a review of criminal and policing activity to the department's top brass, are usually full of intriguing stats and anecdotes. Thursday's session was no different, and one aside was particularly ear-catching. Assistant Chief Tim Dolan, who runs the meetings, uttered at one point, "I think we've seized more than 400 guns already this year."

Actually, it's more than that. The MPD breaks its gun-seizure totals into two categories--"evidence" and "non-evidence." So far this year, cops have collected 477 guns as evidence. If the "non-evidence" seizures--guns found on the street, turned in by citizens, or even discovered in drawers at estate sales--are included, the number is 547.

Last year at this time, the figure was 519. In 1996, the second year of "Murderapolis," when the number of homicides was 86, the MPD took in 932 guns. (So far this year the homicide count is 32.)

The department may top that this year.

Year-to-year comparisons on guns seized aren't immediately available through the department, but the general feeling among the police is that there are, in the words of MPD spokesman Ron Reier, "many more" guns on the street than there were five or even 10 years ago. Still, it's not clear if that's the case.

There's little doubt that more guns lead to more violence and murders--and most crimes are up the last two years. Some 258 guns--nearly half the citywide total--were confiscated in the city's Fourth Precinct, which includes all the troubled neighborhoods on the north side. Likewise, nearly half the city's nurders, 15, have been in the Fourth.

Dolan seems resigned to it as a fact of life. "As far as gun control," he offers, "it's like closing the barn door after all the cows and horses are out."

Tougher laws might not be the answer anyway, Dolan explains, because enforcement has become more difficult. It's no secret that the latest cycle of gang violence is coming from kids who are getting involved at earlier ages. Dolan says the U.S. attorney's office, for instance, won't prosecute juvenile cases.

"We have young gang issues out there," Dolan says. "When there's that many guns out there, something's going on. We hear, anecdotally, that kids aren't afraid to carry them or be caught with them."

Dolan notes that the state's gun laws are relatively tough, but that when it comes to sentencing, "departures are fairly normal." The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms looks into every gun-seizure case, Dolan says, and "the ATF says we're soft compared to other areas."

The assistant chief points to places like New York and Boston. "They've basically set up a no-tolerance attitude toward people arrested with guns," Dolan says. "Not only with tougher sentencing, but in denying bail and things like that."

At the very least, the guns seized this year likely won't end up back on the street. Used to be that law enforcement agencies would make those weapons available to the public, but that practice has largely ended. "We don't auction guns any longer," Dolan notes. "So unless it is something the department can use, which is rare, we have them destroyed, melted at the foundry."

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