Sheriff's department addresses increase in gun-related crimes

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COLUMBIA - The Boone County Sheriff's department says it has seen an increase in shots fired and other gun-related violence throughout the county in the past few years. Between March 2014 and 2015, Columbia had 275 shots fired cases.

Tom O'Sullivan, detective for the Boone County Sheriff's Department, said the increase could be due to the rapid increase in businesses and housing developments.

"When your population increases, so does your level of criminal activity. But I would say we've seen more gun-related violence in the last few years then we've had in years past," O'Sullivan said.

O'Sullivan said many of the crimes are not committed by responsible gun owners, but rather felons who have gained illegal possession of the gun.

"Many times these firearms, pistols, that are used in criminal activity have been obtained illegally either by having been stolen or acquired through means other than lawful ones," O'Sullivan said.

He said a recent change involving gun possession has worried law enforcement.

"Specifically the passage of Amendment Five," he said.

The constitutional amendment, passed in November, states: "That the right of every citizen to keep and bear arms, ammunition, and accessories typical to the normal function of such arms, in defense of his home, person, family and property, or when lawfully summoned in aid of the civil power, shall not be questioned. The rights guaranteed by this section shall be unalienable."

O'Sullivan said, "Hopefully that law can be tweaked a bit to where dangerous criminals aren't legally allowed to carry firearms."

Although the amendment has caused concern for law enforcement, Jim Hill, a firearms instructor at Target Masters, said people must realize what federal law says about felons possessing guns.

"Without getting into a debate with those individuals, if they look at federal law, federal law says no. So whatever they read into Amendment Five is not going to let a felon get a gun at all. I don't think there was any verbiage in there that ever said they could," Hill said.

O'Sullivan said the department is vigilant in addressing issues of gun-related crimes throughout the county.

"We're always looking to make proactive traffic stops. Many times on traffic stops, you find people who have warrants, find guns, you find drugs, you find stolen property. So that's our primary approach, just to get up in the business of this known criminal element that we have here in Boone County," O'Sullivan said.

O'Sullivan said he doesn't think the problem occurred overnight and that it won't be solved overnight.

"I know there's plenty of blame to go around and it's going to take a lot of people working on a solution," he said.