Courts & Crime

Modesto, Calif., feels the sting when legal guns go bad

MODESTO, Calif. — Thirteen shootings left eight people dead, including a 10-year-old boy, and injured 15 others in July. It was the most violent month of what has been a violent year in Modesto.

Just the sound of gunshots can shock a neighborhood at its core. And, unlike a knife or blunt object, you don't have to get close to kill with a gun. Bullets can be sprayed indiscriminately, hitting bystanders caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Modesto's streets are flooded with hundreds of illegal firearms — weapons exchanged for cash or drugs in an underground black market operated by dope peddlers and thugs who use guns to protect their illicit profits and intimidate rival gangs.

Where do those guns come from?

Authorities say the most common pipeline starts in the homes of law-abiding citizens who follow the rules and adhere to waiting periods to purchase firearms. Thieves burglarize homes, steal legal guns, and sell them to drug dealers and gang members.

Detectives said about five to 10 guns are reported stolen each week in Modesto. On the other end, police seize about 10 guns a week that were used in a crime or confiscated during a search.

"Not many days go by that we don't take a gun off the street," said Sgt. Brian Findlen, a Modesto police spokesman.

Federal officials say Modesto isn't the only Northern California city awash with stolen guns. The same violent trend is evident in cities such as Stockton, San Francisco and San Jose, according to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

According to the state Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms, 370,628 guns were bought legally in California in 2007, and 425,244 were bought in 2008.

Law enforcement officials say they do not want to discourage legal gun purchases or attempt to prevent residents who follow the law from owning a gun for protection. Officials, however, urge people to lock up their firearms properly when they're not at home.

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