The saying goes, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." But firearms are the most accessible and lethal tool people use to kill others. In Minneapolis last year, 30 of the city's 40 homicides were committed with a firearm, and guns were used in a total of 90 crimes in Minneapolis in 2010.
Law enforcement officials say the overwhelming majority of the gun crimes were carried out by people who are forbidden by law to possess firearms.
In "Following the Firearms: Gun Violence in Minneapolis," Minnesota Public Radio examines several factors behind gun crime in 2010. MPR's investigation is funded, in part, by a grant from the Joyce Foundation, administered through the John Jay College of Media, Crime and Justice.
The investigation was lead by reporter Brandt Williams. Over the past four months, Williams has searched hundreds of police and court records and talked to dozens of law enforcement officials from around the country, in order to find out who is using illegal guns and to trace where the guns come from.
In part one of our four-part series, Williams examines the most common sources of illegal guns. According to the ATF, most crime guns recovered in Minnesota were originally purchased somewhere in the state. A small portion of those are stolen from gun stores and private homes. Many others are obtained by ineligible people through "straw purchases," where a person who is legally able to buy a gun, buys one for someone who's not.
Gun control activists say one way to crack down on straw purchases is to close the so-called "gun show loophole," which allows unlicensed gun sellers to sell a gun without conducting a background check on the buyer. Williams travels to a local gun show to talk to gun dealers about the loophole. Williams also talks to local and federal law enforcement officials about the wide variety of firearms found on the street.
In part two, Williams presents portraits of several gun offenders, including a 19-year-old prison inmate named Jiyaad Copeland. Copeland says it was not difficult to find a gun. He says he carried one for protection as he walked the rough streets of the city's north side. The report also focuses on the response from law enforcement and the courts.
In part three of the series, reporter Laura Yuen examines the impact of gun violence on the victims and their families. Yuen talks to Princess Titus, whose 16-year old son Anthony was shot and killed last year. Like the majority of gun victims and perpetrators in 2010, Titus was African American. The report also examines the toll gun violence is taking on the black community.
The final part of the series focuses on the politics of gun tracing. For this report, Williams tours the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives National Tracing Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Williams talked to current and former federal law enforcement officials about how their efforts to trace illegal firearms are restricted by Congress and gun rights activists.
One of those activists is Larry Pratt, director of Gun Owners of America. Pratt talked to Williams about how he believes gun tracing infringes on Americans' constitutional right to bear arms. And two U.S. congressmen from Minnesota talk about current and pending legislation involving the ATF.
"Following the Firearms: Gun Violence in Minneapolis" also includes an extensive online component, including maps, video and photos to further illustrate the scope of gun violence in the city. Watch and listen to extended interviews, and look at photos of some of the rarest, most lethal and most bizarre weapons recovered by law enforcement officials.
Projects from other media organizations that also received grants from the Joyce Foundation.
• Guns gone bad, by John Agar, Grand Rapids Press