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The majority of guns used by inner-city gang members in Chattanooga come from burglaries and car break-ins in surrounding counties, the lead local ATF agent said.
Darryl Hill, resident agent-in-charge for the Chattanooga office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said Monday that two of his agents studied a portion of guns used in crimes and seized by Chattanooga police from January 2012 to January 2013.
Although Hill did not have detailed numbers, he said police collect an average of 600 weapons used in crimes each year, a figure that's remained steady for the seven years he's worked here.
The review of traced firearms arose after Hill said he fielded lots of questions about how gang members, many with criminal records, get guns.
It is illegal for most convicted felons to possess a firearm.
Some of the weapons reviewed were purchased at gun shows in what are called "straw buys" -- where a legal buyer purchases guns off the books in private sales and then resells the weapons for profit to gang members.
But most of the weapons traced in the review were stolen from legal gun owners, Hill said.
The agent said this information further supported public education efforts to have gun owners secure their firearms and record the serial numbers of their weapons. The added benefit is that if the weapon is stolen and later recovered, it's more likely to be returned.
"People need to write the serial number down; if it's stolen and you don't have that, you're probably not getting it back," Hill said.
On Monday in federal court, prosecutor Chris Poole and U.S. District Judge Harry S. "Sandy" Mattice discussed the study during a sentencing hearing for five of six men who pleaded guilty to federal firearms charges.
The men were involved, in varying degrees, with the burglary of a Rhea County home where 16 guns were stolen. Nine of the weapons were sold, the rest confiscated, according to court proceedings.
The guns were taken from a home and transported to Jason Floyd Bailey's Soddy-Daisy home for resale, according to court records.
A confidential informant and a Chattanooga gang member working with the ATF made gun buys from members of the group, according to court records.
Agents arrested the men during attempted sales on Sept. 26 and 28, 2012, according to the indictment.
Mattice sentenced the men to the following:
• Jason Floyd Bailey -- four years, three months
• Ricky Parker Jr. -- three years, 10 months
• Greg J. Cowgill, -- two years, six months
• Edwin D. Hargis -- three years probation
• Charles L. Houston -- two years, six months
The sixth co-defendant, Christopher D. Johnson, pleaded guilty and will be sentenced on July 15.
The varying sentences were related to each co-defendant's involvement in the crime, cooperation with investigators and criminal histories.
Hill declined to make any comment about the hearing or investigation by ATF that led to the convictions. He only commented on the study, which Mattice and Poole discussed during the hearing.
The judge asked Poole to explain how guns are traced. The prosecutor said that agents can see where the gun was first legally purchased because a gun buyer is required to fill out a federal form, which includes background information.
But after that sale, private sales are not tracked, Poole said.
"So the paperwork system just doesn't work then, does it?" Mattice asked.
"The paperwork system only works on the first legal purchase," Poole said.
Contact staff writer Todd South at email@example.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.