Special Report: Guns and serial numbers

Published: Oct. 4, 2016 at 1:43 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 4, 2016 at 2:33 AM EDT
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(Joseph Muller | WBTV)
(Joseph Muller | WBTV)
(Joseph Muller | WBTV)
(Joseph Muller | WBTV)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Anchor Molly Grantham has been looking into a problem legal and legitimate gun owners often unknowingly cause for police.

A few months ago, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police hired retired detective Brian Wakeland back to the department on a part-time basis. His one job – one he pitched and CMPD agreed was needed – is to track down the real owners of firearms police find in crimes.

It's a maze-like task. Detective Brian Wakeland says he loves it.

"I've found guns stolen out of campers parked down at Charleston," he said, "I've found guns stolen in other cities. I've found a gun utilized in a murder in another state."

He finds them – or they come to him because other officers seize them in crimes – and then he has to find the rightful owner. If there's no serial number in the database, he works backwards. Did the criminal steal it from someone else? Did they buy it illegally? Who was the owner before the person from whom police just confiscated it?

Wakeland then goes to that person. How did they get it? A pawn shop? Maybe they traded it at a gun show?

"It's a puzzle," Wakeland said. "You have to put all the pieces together."

The goal, Wakeland said, is to hopefully link cases and analysis together. He just has to go about it in reverse fashion.

One thing that would make the process easier would be if gun owners would write their serial numbers down. That way if they ever are stolen or lost, if recovered in a crime they could immediately be tracked to the original owner.

Waxhaw resident and gun owner Clarence Shuler had five guns stolen out of his car in his driveway.

"It was probably one of the most upset I've ever been," he said. "I had put some in the car, loading them up so I wouldn't forget anything and I come out to go at 5:30 in the morning and my car is broken into."

He could describe the two rifles, two shotguns and revolver well, but didn't have the serial numbers.

The theft came across Detective Wakeland's desk. Despite not having Shuler's serial numbers, Wakeland was able to track down four of the five stolen weapons and return them.

Detective Wakeland said of all gun owners, only 15% keep track of their serial numbers.

"Just take a picture of the serial number if you don't' want to write it down," Wakeland said. "You just never know when you might need to give that identification of your weapon to police. You want to be prepared."

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