Harry Jaffe, a longtime chronicler of the people and politics of Washington, D.C., writes a column for NBC Washington's First Read DMV blog.
The nation’s capital is hip-deep in illegal firearms, and that’s not counting the three semi-automatic, long-barrel assault weapons cops recovered last week on South Capitol Street, a block north of Nationals Park.
During the second week of July, police recovered 30 guns, including those three that might be capable of killing crowds of people, according to its regular report. Adding up gun recoveries, I found an average weekly harvest of 30 guns, which comes to 1,560 a year.
"That’s low," D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham tells me.
Our freshly-minted top cop has made gun recovery a priority since he took over the department last September.
"We recovered 1,870 firearms last year and 1,130 already this year," he says. "We’re on a pace to get more."
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Chicago claims to recover more guns than any other city. Actually, D.C. police bring in more weaponry on a per-capita basis. The University of Chicago Crime Lab reported that 6,644 guns were recovered in the Windy City last year. With a population if 2.7 million, Chicago is four times larger than D.C. So our 1,870 guns top Chicago, relative to population.
News that cops are taking more illegal firearms off the streets and out of the hands of criminals cuts both ways. I applaud Newsham for grabbing random guns, but I also see an unending supply of firearms available to people with ill intent.
Newsham has fingered Virginia as the source of D.C.’s ill-gotten arsenal. With some of the most lax gun control regulations in the nation, it’s easier to score a Glock-19 in the Old Dominion than it is to buy a BMW X1. At least a car dealer asks for a driver’s license. Pass a background check and off you go with a handgun – or semi-automatic rifle.
Most troubling for me in last week’s haul were the three assault weapons. In addition to assorted semi-automatic pistols and the occasional snub-nosed revolver, police recovered one Colt AR15, an Anderson Manufacturing AM15 and a Smith & Wesson M&P 15.
Each is fit more for the streets of Mosul than South Capitol Street, where they were found. The “M&P” on the Smith & Wesson stands for “military and police.” Each has the capacity for a 30-round magazine.
“These weapons have the ability to shoot multiple rounds in quick succession,” Newsham said. “They can go through car doors, dry wall, glass. They use the type of round that can go through the target and keep travelling as far as a mile.”
The chief was not eager to talk about the three semi-automatic rifles, their provenance or destination.
“They are under investigation,” he said.
So I pulled the police report.
Officer Qasim Thomas – assisted by three other officers and a crime scene technician – arrived at the Public Storage building near Nationals Park just after 4:30 pm on Thursday, July 13. I am assuming they were operating on a tip, because they went directly to a locker and popped the lock.
Inside they found clothing, a gun sling, “mail matter” – and the three assault weapons. And 40 rounds of ammunition.
The cops left a copy of the search warrant with the attendant and left with the guns.
Keep in mind this storage unit is within sight of the U.S. Capitol, two miles up the road. A Bryce Harper home run from the top of the building might reach the lights of Nationals Park.
I pressed Newsham on the obvious question.
“There is absolutely nothing to tie these weapons to a terrorist,” he said. And that’s all he would say.
Leaves you with a queasy feeling, right?
So thanks to the hard-working cops who disarm gun-wielding thugs and chase down tips to basements or bedroom closets or storage lockers stuffed with weaponry.
And I promise to chase down the source of the three assault weapons. More to come.