Local News

Highway, Legal Systems Contribute to N.C. Gun Trafficking

Posted November 13, 2007 7:15 p.m. EST
Updated November 13, 2007 7:18 p.m. EST

North Carolina ranks No. 7 in the nation for illegal gun trafficking. Last year, more than 11,000 illegal firearms were recovered, many used in violent crimes.

But why does the state carry that dubious distinction?

A deadly drive by shooting on Raleigh's Beauty Avenue netted 15 arrests – all of them gang members, or affiliated with a gang.

"Violent crime and gangs and guns are synonymous," said Earl Woodham, an agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Woodham said a gun is a gang member's courage.

"It, all of a sudden, ratchets up the testosterone of the gang member," he said. "A gang member with his bare hands succumbs real quick to an armed police officer."

Woodham said drying up the source for guns is one way to sap a gang's strength.

But the state's system of highways, such as Interstate 95 – dubbed the "Iron Pipeline" – makes it one of the top 10 sources for illegal guns in the United States.

"Easy access to these interstates has not helped one bit in deterring illegal firearms being trafficked to other states,"

The illegal gun trade in North Carolina is driven by supply and demand and aided by existing laws. Woodham said a person caught selling guns would face one-fifth the jail time than someone caught selling drugs.

"The risk is a lot less," he said. "The reward is a lot higher to traffic fire arms out of North Carolina for just as much, or more, profit."

Tracing gun sales can be a key piece of evidence at trial, but the rules for licensing weapons only go so far.

"If we want to know who had that gun after the first purchaser, we have to physically go out and investigate it just like you would for a homicide or bank robbery, because that's where the paper trail ends."

What doesn't end is the stream of guns bought, sold, found or stolen in North Carolina. Nor does the work of investigators, who operate within a system they consider frustrating.

Some experts, such as Woodham, say the answer is not to ban all guns – just respect them and the law.

Woodham said most licensed dealers abide by the law. It's the ones who don't, and the people who seize the opportunity to buy illegal weapons that put North Carolina high on the list.