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A Chattanooga police officer discovered a bag of loaded handguns inside a car he pulled over for a broken taillight on Thursday.

Three people in the car were arrested, including a 17-year-old male, a 16-year-old male and 19-year-old Depriest Deloney. All three teenagers are validated members or associates of the Rollin 90 Crips, according to police.

They were driving through a part of town that is dominated by a rival gang, police said.

Officer Jason Clemons stopped the car at 100 Workman Drive just after 11 p.m. for the broken taillight and searched the vehicle after smelling what he thought was marijuana, he wrote in an affidavit.

Clemons found the guns inside a black backpack in the back seat of the SUV. All were handguns, and one weapon was equipped with a 31-round magazine. The others had standard 13- and 17-round magazines.

Each gun had a round in the chamber and was equipped with a laser sight. The laser sights were turned on, Clemons wrote.

Police are familiar with all three teenagers in the SUV, said Sgt. Josh May. Deloney had been on the run from police since he fled a traffic stop in the spring of 2016, he said.

The 17-year-old male was just released from jail in Knoxville on a bond for an aggravated robbery, May said, even though multiple Chattanooga police officers urged the judge not to set a bond during a Dec. 16 hearing.

The judge set a $70,000 bond for the teenager. Knoxville authorities revoked that bond after his arrest on Thursday. The Times Free Press does not typically identify juveniles charged with crimes.

The 16-year-old in the car is also a frequent flyer among officers, May said. The boy was shot at three times in 2016. And that's common — in Chattanooga, victims of shootings are also often suspects in shootings.

A small number of people are responsible for the majority of Chattanooga's gun violence, May said.

"When I'm looking at less than 1 percent [of Chattanooga's population] involved in 56 percent of shootings and 51 percent of homicides during the last three, four years, it's relatively easy to know who is doing what and who's where," he said. "It's getting them at the right time, that is the key, and doing it legally."

On Thursday, the teenagers told police they were in the neighborhood to pick up a friend — a 19-year-old woman who was not arrested — and were heading back to the Brainerd area when they were pulled over.

It's hard to say if the teenagers intended to carry out a shooting that night, May said. The neighborhood where they were pulled over is dominated by members of the Bloods gang and has seen several gang-related shootings recently.

"Were they strolling and rolling? Maybe," May said. "Were they going out there to do something mischievous and violent? I mean, three guns, one with a 31-round magazine. Totaling it up it's 61 rounds of bullets. So they were ready — they were ready for whatever."

Young teenagers drive many of Chattanooga's shootings, May added, for a variety of reasons.

"Pulling the trigger is one of the ways that they would go about proving their loyalty to the gang," he said.

Adult gang members also sometimes encourage juveniles to do the actual shooting so that if the group is caught, the adults don't face heavy penalties. Juveniles typically have shorter criminal records and face less time for weapons offenses than adults.

Seventy juveniles have been shot in Chattanooga during the past four years, and only three were unintentional shootings. Most juvenile victims were between 15 and 17 years old.

The guns that police found in the SUV were not listed as stolen. Deloney told police the weapons belonged to him, according to police. Because the weapons were within easy reach of two minors, Deloney was charged with two counts of providing firearms to juveniles.

He also was charged with possession of a firearm with the intent to go armed and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He was booked into the Hamilton County Jail and remained in custody on Friday.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @ShellyBradbury.

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