Tracking California's Guns: A Bay Area Perspective

A six-month investigation found nearly 70,000 guns were lost or stolen in California over the last half-decade and many of those same guns were later used to commit other crimes. That’s about 34 guns every day that are stolen from legal gun owners.

Some were later used to kill innocent people across the state.

People like Olga Dinelli, 84, who was tied up and shot once in the head in her Sonoma County home last year. Police seized multiple stolen guns from her suspected killers.

Gun theft isn’t as prevalent in the Bay Area as it is in other parts of California, but stolen guns have played a central role in some of the region’s most high-profile murders.

From Kate Steinle, killed with a gun stolen from a Federal law enforcement agent on San Francisco's Pier 14, to Steve Carter, the tantra yoga instructor killed on a Marin County hiking trail by three transients with a gun grabbed from a parked car in San Francisco, stolen guns have left deep and personal scars.

“It was just devastating,” said Lokita Carter, Steve Carter’s widow. She was in the middle of a battle of cancer when she learned of her husband’s death. “Having cancer is one thing. Having rare, invasive cancer is another thing. Having police standing outside at 3 in the morning saying, ‘We have some unfortunate news for you, your husband was shot dead a few miles away,’ was a bad nightmare.”

Click here to see the complete story about stolen guns and their impact on the Bay Area.

The Bay Area isn’t a hot spot for gun theft, although more than 10,000 guns were reported lost or stolen across the nine Bay Area counties between 2010 and late 2015. In comparison, the Los Angeles area and some Central Valley communities have far more stolen guns. For example, more than 4,600 guns were reported lost or stolen to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department alone.

Just outside the Bay area, stolen guns have helped fuel an epidemic of violence in Stockton.

According to police data compiled by the NBC stations, stolen guns have been seized in connection to more than 400 crimes in Stockton since 2010, including at least 12 homicides.

More than 1,350 guns were reported lost or stolen in Stockton over the same time period, according to California Department of Justice data.

The San Jose Police Department took 1,452 lost or stolen gun reports over the same time period, the most of any Bay Area law enforcement agency. Since 2012, data from the San Jose Police Department shows at least 85 stolen guns were seized in connection to crimes in the city, including two homicides, five shootings and a rape.

The Oakland Police Department was second, taking nearly 1,000 stolen or lost gun reports. San Francisco police only took 412 reports over the same time period, ranking the department 31st in the state.

Yet stolen guns have left a dark, indelible mark on the Bay Area.

In 2015 alone, five high profile homicides involving stolen guns made headlines across the region. They include:

  • Olga Dinelli, 84, killed on Feb. 26 – Dinelli was tied up and shot in her Penngrove home by two fugitives wanted for the recent theft of firearms out of a Marin County home.
  • Kate Steinle, 32, killed on Jul. 1 – Steinle, a Pleasanton resident, was shot and killed while walking with her father along San Francisco’s Pier 14. The gun that killed Steinle was stolen from a Bureau of Land Management ranger’s vehicle while parked in San Francisco.
  • Antonio Ramos, 27, killed on Sept. 27 – Ramos was shot and killed while working on a mural for peace in Oakland. Police say Ramos was shot with a gun stolen from the parked vehicle of an U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officer.
  • Audrey Carey, 23, killed on Oct. 3 – Carey, a Canadian tourist visiting San Francisco, was found dead in Golden Gate Park with a gunshot wound to the back of the head. The shooting coincided with the city’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival where thousands of visitors flock to the park.
  • Steve Carter, 67, killed on Oct. 5 – The tantra yoga instructor was gunned down at random while walking his dog on a hiking trail in the Fairfax area of Marin County. The same drifters accused of killing Audrey Carey are accused of killing Carter. Police say the same stolen gun was used in both murders. Lokita Carter keeps a blog where she writes about Steve and her fight with cancer and has a GoFundMe page to help her with the financial burden of her cancer treatments and her husband’s death.
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