An undercover operation aimed at taking guns away from convicted felons has led to federal and state charges in Kansas against 67 people, part of nationwide initiative by the Justice Department, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said Thursday.
An undercover operation aimed at taking guns away from convicted felons has led to federal and state charges in Kansas against 67 people, part of a nationwide initiative by the Justice Department, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said Thursday.
The 11-month investigation was unveiled in Wichita, one day after about 100 law enforcement authorities began arresting the first 55 suspects in a sweep centered mainly in the city. Most are charged in federal indictments with firearms and drug crimes.
Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives worked with the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office and the Wichita Police Department to seize about 240 firearms. They include a couple of dozen stolen guns and a half-dozen sawed-off shotguns. Officers also seized cocaine, Ecstasy, marijuana and other drugs.
"This operation was planned and executed for one reason and one reason only, and that was to make Wichita a safer place to be," Grissom said. "I believe that every weapon taken out of the hands of a convicted felon or a career offender represents lives saved and violent crimes prevented."
The goal was to reduce gun violence and seize crimes before they are used in crimes, he said, adding that authorities focused resources on offenders who use and provide guns for violent crimes.
He said gun violence is not only a threat to the public, but to law enforcement officials. Last year was the deadliest year for law enforcement in the past two decades, and this year is on track to beat the numbers from last year, Grissom said. That prompted U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to give "marching orders" to federal authorities to do everything they could to remove firearms from the hands of violent offenders.
The U.S. attorney's office is prosecuting most of the cases. The Sedgwick County district attorney is handling juvenile defendants. The cases mainly involve individuals, Grissom said, though some defendants belong to gangs.
Federal firearms laws are much tougher than state ones and the crimes carry much longer sentences, Grissom said.
Federal statutes prohibit convicted felons from possessing firearms or ammunition, ban people who use illegal drugs from possessing firearms, forbid the use of firearms for drug trafficking, prohibit possession of stolen firearms and prohibit people from having a firearm whose serial number has been obliterated, he noted.
Michael Gleysteen, ATF special agent in charge of the agency's Kansas City office, said that during the investigation, ATF agents and local law enforcement officers risked their lives in more than 250 undercover operations.
"Law enforcement has taken a huge step forward in taking these violent criminals off the streets of Wichita," Gleysteen said.
Once the guns are checked for any ballistic evidence in crimes, the weapons will be destroyed, Grissom said.
"Anytime you can initiate a proactive operation that focuses on community safety and brings together the resources — whether it's local, state or federal — then it is a win-win for the community, because you are talking about less victimization as a result of hand guns," said Wichita police Chief Norm Williams.