NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Since 2017, Norfolk Police Chief Larry Boone has gathered data on crime. He calls it a deep dive into where guns originate, how they get to the streets, who’s buying them, and in the end, how many guns found at crime scenes are responsible for other incidents.
Boone recently sat down with WAVY to share what he has learned and to get the word out on handguns potentially being illegally purchased and showing up at crime scenes.
On Boone’s desk is a picture of three men and four guns.
“Three months after I got the photograph, I look at that picture a lot. See, there are three men and four guns. A short time after this picture was taken, two of the three were killed due to gun violence, and it was at that point, I started tracking the genesis of our handguns,” he said.
So, Boone created a map with green dots where police found guns. The largest concentration is the area between Monticello Avenue and Tidewater Drive,
“That is the highest concentration of poverty,” Boone said.
Boone thinks poverty breeds a lack of hope, and to do things to survive, people buy guns or steal them.
“Straw purchases, breaking into cars, guns are left in the cars, and breaking into homes,” he said.
One of several charts from Boone shows “Firearms Originating From Dealerships in Hampton Roads.”
The chief says his data shows most of the guns recovered at crime scenes, 446 of them in 2020, originated from Bob’s Gun Shop in Norfolk and Superior Pawn & Gun in Virginia Beach.
“We know there have been straw purchases at both locations,” Boone said. “We don’t guess that; we know that.”
Straw purchases are when someone who can’t buy a gun due to a criminal record gets someone with a clean record to buy it for them.
The message from Boone to gun stores: “Make sure you vet the purchasers thoroughly who are purchasing weapons.”
Bob’s Gun Shop Owner Steve Dowdy says suspicion of a straw purchase at Bob’s immediately kills the sale.
“Not knowing what they want, we have some people come in, and they point to a gun. We ask them what caliber weapon, and they don’t know. They’ve been directed I need that gun, but they don’t know anything about it … it doesn’t happen often, but it does, and it will kill the sale,” he said.
In 2020, 850 firearms were recovered, and only 51 were reported stolen. That’s 6%. The chief says people are not reporting when their weapons are stolen, or they say they didn’t know they were stolen.
“These are just the ones we are recovering, and you consider just 51 out of 850 guns were reported stolen that is alarming … obviously that number should be higher,” Boone adds.
Boone says the data shows of firearms recovered, 81% were in the hands of an African American man who is likely between the ages of 25-30 (possession highest among those ages) and with likely no gang affiliation.
There’s a chart of firearms recovered from the original purchaser. Many guns are recovered from someone other than the original purchaser.
“The gun was left in a car, they stole it, burglary, someone off the street sold it to them, but I suspect a lot of that is straw purchasing,” Boone said.
There’s a chart showing “From Purchase to Time of Crime.”
“163 [guns] used in a crime in less than three months, 213 within three years and in this space between we don’t know,” he said.
The chart of “Firearms Recovered from Felons v. Non Felons” shows that in 2020, the number of firearms recovered from felons was 256.
“That’s alarming: 256 guns in the hands of someone who you know should not be in possession of it,” Boone added. “I am certain straw purchases have been made in these locations … at Bob’s and Superior [gun shops].”
Dowdy, the owner of Bob’s, says he picks up on the suspicious activity.
“We have some people coming in on the phone, and every once in a while, they are being pushed to buy a certain gun, so we can kill that sale no problem when we see that happening,” he said.
Dowdy also knows when they kill the sale, that sale will likely take place somewhere else.
“We can do our best to get someone out of the store who is trying to straw purchase, and then they run down the road and buy it somewhere else. They learned their mistake with us, and then they move on to another store,” he said.
The owner of Superior Pawn & Gun would not do an interview with 10 On Your Side, but did tell us he thinks cell phones should be banned in gun stores. Customers have been known to bring in cell phones, and do FaceTime to show the person on the other end what the selection looks like.
Back at Bob’s, they’re trained to look for identifiers.
“They are buying a gun and talking to somebody, or there are two people conferring, then one person moves to the side, and this person comes into the sale and takes over.
Dowdy is also in touch with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“If you buy two handguns from us in a week, we fill in a multiple purchase form, and that is sent to the ATF, so they have that information. If it is a ring or trafficking, it is sent to them for their analysis,” Dowdy said.
Boone also acknowledges 99% of guns at Bob’s and Superior are purchased legally.
“But because I do not know there have been straw purchases at those locations, I want to take a deeper dive to see what else may be going on,” Boone said.
One particular statistic stands out when it comes to guns in Norfolk.
“We know in this city, there’s about 15 or 20 handguns that are doing most of our shootings,” Boone said.
The chief finds that statistic stunning, but knows it’s true because of the analysis Norfolk performs on shell casings left behind at crime scenes.
“What we would do is examine all the casings that match,“ said Sgt. Tim Breslin, who forensically examines thousands of shell casings that go into a national database.
“You can see how the marking is on the side of the casing … and how they are consistent with other similar casings,” Breslin said.
Norfolk reports that this year alone, 10 guns were connected to 47 different incidents.
In the end, Boone says guns on the streets of Norfolk can only be remedied through what he calls a holistic approach.
“It is changing hearts and minds through creating opportunities at the end of the day,” Boone said.