The Glock 17, 9mm semi-automatic pistol is linked to more D.C. homicides in the last six years than any other gun, making it D.C.’s deadliest firearm.
According to data from the Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS), 350 firearms have been recovered from homicides since 2009.
Semi-automatic pistols were used in homicides more than any other design. The Smith & Wesson revolver is second on the list after semi-automatics. The data shows that criminals who shoot to kill are four times more likely to use a semi-automatic handgun than a revolver.
Additionally, the data found that most of these firearms are recovered in police districts 5, 6 and 7.
The 7th District recovered the highest number of guns this year with 37 firearms. Seventeen were taken from the 6th District and 15 from the 5th.
Since 2009, the 6th District has recovered the highest cumulative number of firearms, with 87. The 7th District is a close second at 83. Thirty-seven of the firearms in the data did not specify a district—23 of these were from 2013.
The gun extraction process in D.C. is making a difference, Police Chief Cathy Lanier argues: the number of shooting homicides has dropped, and continues to drop.
“So far this year, I think 67 percent of our homicides were with a firearm,” Lanier said in an interview at police headquarters. “The first 15 or 16 years of my career, 97 to 99 percent of all homicides were gun homicides. So 67 percent is a pretty dramatic drop in gun-related homicides overall.”
Firearm recovery is a crucial part of reducing and preventing violent crime, Lanier said. The same firearm can be linked to multiple cases, increasing the significance of gun reduction efforts.
“That’s why I say it’s so important to try and take shooters off the street as quickly as possible,” Lanier said. “They’re not going to stop shooting and where that gun goes, from victim to victim, is sometimes multiple people.”
When a firearm is found at the crime scene, investigators deliver it to the Department of Forensic Sciences — a department created in 2011, separate from the many police departments here, to provide science services for government agencies in the District.
DFS Director of Crime Scene Sciences Randall Wampler oversees the Crime Scene Sciences Division (CSS), which includes the Central Evidence Unit (CEU). According to Wampler, the firearms travel through several branches of DFS for analysis.
First, the Latent Print Unit will test a firearm for fingerprints and touch DNA to try and identify anyone who handled the weapon. The gun is transferred back to a vault in the CEU after it’s been swabbed.
At this point, Wampler says, the weapon is ready for test firing and is transferred to the Firearms Examination Unit.
“Virtually every weapon is test fired,” says Wampler. “The main reason we do that is so that we can gather fired cartridge casings to enter into the National Integrated Ballistics Identified System — that’s essentially the firearms characteristics database.”
This characteristics database is part of the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network, part of the the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Testing a gun involves firing into a water tank that saves the bullets. Technicians investigate bullet cartridges for two characteristics.
“When the hammer strikes a cartridge, it leaves a firing pin impression and breech face marks. Those are identifiable to a weapon like a fingerprint,” says Wampler.
Microscopic images are taken of the impressions and breech face marks and uploaded to NIBIN. According to Wampler, bullet casings that police collect at crime scenes are also entered into NIBIN, as forensic evidence. The database will search for a match between a weapon’s test fire results and weapons in the system.
After the gun is test fired, it’s transferred back to the CEU and then handed over to the MPD Evidence Control Branch. According to Chief Lanier, the gun is destroyed once the case is over.