Going after 'crime guns' in Savannah - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Going after 'crime guns' in Savannah


A big part of turning violent crime around in Savannah and Chatham County is getting guns out of the hands of those who, by law, shouldn't have them.

And there are numerous efforts to do just that, but it's not always easy.

WTOC is looking into what kind of collaborative effort goes in to catching convicted felons in possession of firearms.

It's a constant battle to keep up with those who use guns while committing crimes, and WTOC spoke to several different law enforcement agencies to see what kinds of things they're up against while trying to make Savannah's streets safer.

"You hear anything from tool, to piece, to banger to hammer. It's really just a huge array of wording that they use," said Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team spokesman Gene Harley.

Different words, all meaning the same thing to convicted felons on the streets of Savannah.  But a gun by any other name is still a deadly weapon and something Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics wants off the streets before the trigger is ever pulled. 

Harley said, "In most of our search warrants, there's a good chance we recover at least one firearm."

However, on a good day, Harley said busts can be much bigger. A single drug house once netted more than 30 guns.  

So how are these convicted felons getting their hands on weapons they can't buy legally? ATF agents in Savannah say, they're simply stealing yours.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives-Savannah office Special Agent in Charge Timothy Graden said, "That is a very high percentage of the amount of crime guns that get out there. Initially, they're not crime guns. But they turn into them when somebody breaks into these places and steals these firearms."

Special Agent Graden said even before the creation of Savannah's End Gun Violence Initiative, the ATF regularly partnered with state and local police to attack the proliferation of guns in our community.

Graden said, "We're going to do the best we can, hopefully. And I do believe it's going to be effective in the long run."

The problem is violent criminals don't go down without a fight, especially when they're armed… and they're usually armed.

Harley explained, "They're not like a normal member of society. And they're going to do whatever they have to do to get away."

Harley said that often includes modifying weapons, and homes, to make it more difficult and dangerous for anyone trying to get in.

"Some of these guys get creative. Where some people collect cars and have other hobbies, for drug dealers and other criminals…they take a lot of pride in their firearms," said Harley.

But even getting one firearm out of the hand of a felon can make all the difference, can save the life of your son, daughter, husband or wife.

Harley said, "It does make a dramatic impact. One, it disrupts the unlawful acts within the gang itself. It shows any would-be members that this is probably not the life for you because we're here. And frankly it's a stern reminder that despite what you may think, that's not your corner, that's not your block, that's not your area. That is the citizens' of our county, and that is ours to enforce. And we will remind you if needed, that it is our property."

CNT is currently bound by law to sell at auction firearms they seize on operations that aren't altered, where other municipal agencies can choose to just destroy the guns they take from criminals.

That's a law they hope to get changed during this legislative session.

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