KANSAS CITY, Mo. — They’re typically seen in the hands of soldiers engaged in combat. SWAT team members arm themselves with the firearms when called to serious standoffs.
But in the last 15 years John Ham, a spokesman with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Kansas City Division, says law enforcement officers are seeing brazen criminals carry high-powered rifles on metro streets.
Rifles that, with a quick click, can instantly maim or kill.
“These are the weapons we take off the streets. One of our primary missions is to disrupt that flow of these guns,” Ham said.
He wasn’t surprised when he heard this week that federal prosecutors said 18-year-old Derron Nevels shot zTrip driver Teresa Meitl more than 20 times with a military/police-style rifle during a robbery.
Family members said Meitl is still “fighting for her life with nine bullets still lodged in her.”
“The gun is not going to do anything illegal by itself. It’s still the person that’s making the decision that they’re going to use a gun in violent crime that is the problem. We’ve recovered guns from 14- and 15-year-olds,” Ham said.
Many people might think the guns are filtering into the metro from other cities. That’s not the case, Ham said.
“The guns that are used in crime in Kansas City are guns taken from others in Kansas City — either breaking into cars, breaking into houses, breaking into gun shops. That’s why the ATF puts such an emphasis on these cases,” Ham told FOX4’s Robert Townsend on Thursday.
Last year in Missouri, ATF agents recovered more than 6,000 guns from criminals. Almost 600 were rifles.
In Kansas, nearly 3,000 guns were seized from drug dealers, gang members and other bad guys. Almost 400 of those firearms were rifles.
“This is the threat that we face when we go out every day. The profession of law enforcement is not getting any safer. It’s a war out there,” Ham said.
FOX4 showed several metro residents video of the four rifles the ATF displayed for us during our interview.
“Man that’s insane,” one man said.
“We’ve lost our respect for human life,” a woman said.
“I just think it’s ridiculous and shocking,” another man said.
It’s shocking to citizens, but not to seasoned law enforcement officers who say they are winning the war on the streets.
“Are there more guns on the streets right now than last year or the year before? No. Our numbers have stayed about the same. We’re trained. We’re prepared. We’re ready because we know that the threat is out there,” Ham said.