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Records: 9-mm guns most frequently traced in criminal cases

A firearms owner displays a Glock 9-mm pistol

A firearms owner displays a Glock 9-mm pistol in Roanoke, Va., on April 17, 2007. Photo Credit: AP / Don Petersen

          An Editor’s Note published July 12, 2017, about Kevin Deutsch’s reporting appears at the end of this story. 

It's the firearm of choice for Long Island's, and America's, gun-toting criminals.

Nine-millimeter pistols are the guns most often traced as part of criminal investigations in Nassau and Suffolk counties, along with New York State and 31 others, a Newsday examination found.

In 2013, 8,539 guns -- including 1,494 9-mm's -- were traced as part of criminal cases originating in New York. Nassau and Suffolk police departments recovered 935 guns, records show.

The brands of 9-mm guns linked to law enforcement investigations are varied, ranging from Glocks and Berettas to Smith & Wessons and Sig Sauers.

"Nines," as they're commonly called, are among the best-selling guns among Americans in general -- a trend that includes the hundreds of law enforcement agencies with personnel who carry them, authorities say.

But it is the 9-mm's popularity among criminals that has police and anti-violence advocates concerned. The weapon, they say, is too readily available on the black market, driving their prices down and making them more attractive to felons unable to legally purchase firearms.

 

Community damage

"This is the type of gun that is causing the greatest damage to our communities, and therefore needs to be pursued more aggressively in underground gun markets," said Delia Bell-Powell, a civil rights and anti-violence activist in St. Louis, who also works with community activists in the tristate area, including on Long Island, to help curb gun violence. "People say if you seize a large number of illegal 9 millimeters, criminals will just find another gun they like to replace it. To that I say, 'So be it.' We'll deal with one gun at a time, because each seizure or turned-in weapon could save a life."

An examination of New York State gun trace records and 2013 federal gun-trace data from all 50 states -- information that is compiled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives -- found:

More than 336,000 guns were traced by the ATF in 2013 as part of local, state and federal criminal probes.

672 violent crimes recorded on Long Island in 2013 involved a gun, down slightly from the 692 2012. Several hundred of those 2013 crimes involved 9-mm models, police estimated, more than any other type of gun. A more precise total was not available.

556 guns were traced by ATF as part of criminal investigations by Nassau County Police in 2013, up from 492 in 2012. In Suffolk, ATF traced 379 guns as part of criminal investigations by county police in 2013, up from 300 in 2012.

Nearly 1.7 million 9-mm guns were manufactured in the United States between Jan. 1 and July 14 this year, the most of any type of pistol, federal records show. The second-most manufactured pistol was the .50 caliber, of which more than 1.2 million were domestically produced during that same period.

19,601 federally licensed guns were recorded lost or stolen in the nation in 2013, including 3,174 in New York alone. The frequency with which firearms are lost and stolen helps explain how guns purchased legally sometimes fall into the hands of criminals, authorities say.

Twenty-two caliber guns are the second-most commonly traced firearm linked to criminal investigations in New York State. It is the most frequently traced gun in a total of 17 states.

ATF performs traces at its National Tracing Center in West Virginia, hailed by the agency as the only American facility authorized to trace domestic and foreign guns for international, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The center helps law enforcement agencies solve gun crimes, uncover gun trafficking and identify trends involving movement of guns linked to crimes.

Among those guns, 9-mm's are the most prevalent, records show. But the reasons for their popularity are varied.

For some, 9-mm guns are ideal due to their combined attributes of accuracy, ease-of-use and compact size, authorities say. Others choose them because they are so plentiful.

Above all, criminals flock to 9-mm guns because they are "glorified" in television and movies, said Det. Sgt. Patrick Ryder, head of the Nassau police intelligence division.

"Every single cop show you watch, good guy or bad guy, they always carry a nine," Ryder said. "Bad guys love them because they get to rack the slide back and show off just like the gangsters do on TV."

Nine-millimeter guns are also popular with terrorists and dictators, having played an outsized role in recent global news events. Al-Qaida-linked operatives have been caught overseas carrying nines.

 

Favored by terrorists

The guns are also a favorite of terror organizations such as Islamic State, Hamas and Hezbollah, according to a federal law enforcement source.

Deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was carrying a 9-mm when American troops found him hiding in an underground hole in 2003. And Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi was reportedly carrying a gold 9-mm when he was fatally wounded.

The gun that took Gadhafi down? A 9-mm.

"It doesn't matter whether you're a thug in New York or the Middle East," the source said. "Chances are, you're carrying a nine. For nine out of ten [criminals], that's their go-to [weapon]."

The 9-mm also has been used in several mass shootings. Jared Lee Loughner used one when he killed six people and wounded 13 others, including former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, in Tucson, Arizona, in January 2011.

Seung Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, used a 9-mm as well as a .22-caliber to kill 32 people and wound 17 others in April 2007 before committing suicide.

 

Glock products

Both 9-mm guns were manufactured by the Austria-based company Glock, the world's largest pistol manufacturer. A Glock representative could not be reached for comment on this story.

Locally, 9-mm guns of all models have been traced to infamous killings, including the murder of NYPD Officer Peter Figoski of West Babylon. On Dec. 12, 2011, Figoski was one of the first officers to respond to a 2 a.m. call in East New York, where a five-man robbery crew had targeted a small-time drug dealer living in a basement apartment.

One of the fleeing robbers, Lamont Pride, 28, shot Figoski outside the apartment. Pride was convicted of murder and burglary and sentenced to 45 years to life; most of the other defendants received sentences of up to 25 years to life.

In another high-profile case, a Nassau police officer accidentally shot and killed Hofstra University junior Andrea Rebello, 21, in May 2013 while firing at Dalton Smith, 30, who had taken Rebello hostage with a loaded 9-mm. Smith was also killed by the officer.

James Alan Fox, a criminologist and professor at Northeastern University in Boston, said the 9-mm has been buoyed by the same kind of buzz typically reserved for trendy new restaurants or fashion designs.

"As is true with all sorts of things from food to clothing, certain items become more popular because of word-of-mouth," said Fox, an expert on gun violence. "There's almost a fetish element with some items, and that would probably include the 9-mm."

Editor’s note: Newsday undertook an extensive, four-month review of reporting by Kevin Deutsch, who covered law enforcement from April 2012 to September 2016.

The review of the former Newsday reporter’s work began after The Baltimore Sun this year reported that law enforcement and other officials questioned the veracity of Deutsch’s nonfiction book “Pill City” about Baltimore’s drug trade. In addition, questions arose about individuals named in Newsday stories by Deutsch. Book publisher St. Martin’s Press and Deutsch have said they stand behind the book.

We are dedicated to accurate, factual reporting, to the highest journalistic standards and to maintaining our credibility with Newsday readers. We also are committed to being accountable to our readers. Newsday undertook the detailed review in that spirit and because of the concerns that were raised.

In late February, as our review was under way, The New York Times reported in an editor’s note that The Times “had been unable to locate or confirm the existence of two people who were named and quoted” in a Dec. 29, 2016, freelance article written by Deutsch. Deutsch “maintains that the interviews and the descriptions are accurate,” The Times wrote.

Newsday reviewed 600 stories with reporting by Deutsch. We contacted officials in the police departments regularly involved in Deutsch’s coverage. They said they had not had problems with his work. We then focused our research and reporting on individuals who, as described in the stories, would not be considered officials, or well-known, public figures.

The review found 77 stories with 109 individuals from Deutsch’s reporting whom Newsday could not locate. The main points of the stories were not affected. While two stories about the Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen were based on sources Newsday could not locate, other media reported the main points of those stories but with attribution from different sources.  In this story, Newsday could not locate: Delia Bell-Powell. Newsday is attaching an editor’s note to each story online that contains individuals we cannot locate.

Here’s how Newsday conducted the review:

Researchers and reporters searched local and national public records, sites providing nationwide people searches, databases of business, real estate and conviction records, social media sites including Facebook, LinkedIn and Ancestry.com and nationwide news archives. They searched potential alternate spellings and other name variations. Their reporting followed potential leads they found through research, within stories and in information shared by Deutsch during the review.

Finding people after publication, in some cases years later, can be difficult because of changes in residence, circumstance and contact information. Some may not have given their real names.

On the law enforcement beat, reporters may encounter people who lead lives that are not reflected in public records or other sources of information that would help locate them. It is possible that some on our list were difficult to find or reluctant to respond to our review because they are undocumented immigrants, those battling or recovering from addiction or people involved in or around illegal activity.

Some on our list were described discussing crimes in their neighborhoods, and others as relatives, friends or neighbors of victims or as individuals living near or knowing those accused of crimes.

Others we have not been able to locate, though, are described as bystanders, neighbors, spectators, relatives of drug victims, witnesses to news events or related in some way to people in the news. Still others are described in stories as people actively engaged in public issues, such as activists, protesters and marchers. Many individuals on the list are described as local.

Deutsch said in email exchanges with Newsday that “I have no doubt about the veracity of the claims of the sources I quoted.” He also said, “Not a single public official, source, or other interviewee has raised any issues with even one of these stories.”

“It's impossible for any reporter to know whether the name given to him by interviewees on the street--or those reached briefly by phone or email-- is that person's full and legal name, rather than an alias or variation of their real name (maiden names and certain common nicknames/abbreviations for first names are often published by newspapers, including Newsday.). But every one of the names on Newsday’s list was the name given to me by that interview subject, verbatim.”

During the four months of our review, Newsday shared questions and updates with Deutsch as we progressed in the search for individuals we could not locate. We requested notes and contact information. Deutsch sent us notes he said represented all individuals we were unable to locate and responded over the course of the review by email, sharing information he said was from his recollection and notes.

Reporters followed up on all information shared by Deutsch. He did not provide contact information for those on our list. Newsday reporters and editors sought unsuccessfully several times to meet with Deutsch to discuss his reporting and to review his notes together to ensure we were not missing contact information or other details that might help locate individuals. Deutsch maintained that the notes he shared “serve as evidence of interviews” with each source.

Deutsch said he kept contact information in a Rolodex he left behind at Newsday’s main office and in a company-issued cellphone he returned within a week after resigning on Sept. 6, 2016. Editorial staff did not find a Rolodex or other notes at our office, but found notes left at Newsday’s desk at a courthouse pressroom where he worked. We shared them with Deutsch and he confirmed they were his. As per company policy, the contents of the cellphone had been deleted immediately after Deutsch returned it to Newsday.

Maintaining the trust of our readers is essential to our mission.  If we are able subsequently to locate any individuals, we will update our stories.

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