Gun Seizures on Rise in San Diego County

Inside the Sheriff's Crime Lab, there are more than 1300 firearms collected by the department

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    While a push for new gun control measures makes its way through Washington, D.C. local law enforcement face an uphill battle taking guns off the streets.

    With the number of gun crimes on the rise in San Diego County this past year Norman Pawchuck has spent long hours in the crime lab analyzing the new inventory.

    “From the ultimate crime of violence, like homicide, down to mere possession,” Pawchuck said. “A lot of firearms are illegal even to just possess."

    Pawchuck oversees the Firearms Analysis Unit for San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

    Gun Seizures on the Rise in San Diego

    [DGO] Gun Seizures on the Rise in San Diego
    While a push for new gun control measures makes its way through Washington, D.C. local law enforcement face an uphill battle taking guns off the streets. NBC 7's Diana Guevara explains how gun seizures are on the rise in our county. (Published Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013)

    He says it's very rare for the department to come across assault-type weapons. Seizing handguns and altered rifles, is another story.

    Inside the Sheriff's Crime Lab Firearms reference collection, there are more than 1300 firearms gathered by the department over the past 20 years.

    Most are handguns but you will find semiautomatic handguns, some revolvers and some rifles. Occasionally you’ll come across a fully automatic gun that’s banned in California.

    “These are very rare,” Pawchuck said. “Once we find one, we put it in our collection because we may never see them again.”

    Like the rest of the weapons, the gun is now used for training and case work. Some were turned over to the department voluntarily. Others were confiscated after being used in a violent crime.

    “Semi-automatics are very popular as they are across a wide range of society. So therefore whatever's being used in society is being stolen and used in crime," he said.

    The number of firearms seized by law enforcement in San Diego County is on the rise.

    In 2010 the Sheriff's department seized 196 guns that were either in illegal possession or suspected of being used in a crime.

    In 2011, that number dropped to 169, then jumped to 239 last year.

    For Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), it’s a similar situation.

    In 2010, agents seized 86 guns. The next year, 104 weapons were seized. Just last year 121 guns were confiscated.

    According to both agencies majority of the guns are seized during search warrants or during gang busts.

    A growing problem is altered guns.

    A shotgun is legal to possess in California, but not if it has been altered.

    Pawchuck showed NBC 7 San Diego how subtle features like a pistol grip or removing a magazine from a gun, can get someone in serious trouble.

    “If this magazine lock was taken off this is illegal and you could be convicted of a felony," Pawchuck said.

    “A lot of our cases in the last couple of years have been college students and military personnel from out of state who just didn't know. They're legal in their state but they're not in California."

    While handguns are more commonly seized, some are actually turned in by their owners. But, if they're modified at all, they become illegal.

    “The law can be very confusing and sometimes it's not cut and dry,” Pawchuck said. “But ignorance of the law is no excuse."