Superintendent Garry McCarthy this week has touted Chicago's drop in violent crimes and murder but he says that number could go down futher by reducing the prevalence of guns. NBC 5 Investigates Marion Brooks gets inside Chicago Police Department's gun vault.
The dozens of guns collected each week by Chicago police officers are stored inside an expansive warehouse in a location undisclosed to the public.
From the floor almost to the ceiling, row after row, shelf after shelf and bin after bin, are guns.
"We've recovered more than 6,500 guns so far in 2013, and every year for I don't know how long the Chicago Police Department has recovered more guns than any police department in the country," police Supt. Garry McCarthy said as he provided NBC Chicago a recent, exclusive peek inside the facility.
His statistics indicate CPD officers recover nearly twice as many guns as officers in Los Angeles and New York City combined.
The "gun vault, " or the Evidence and Recovered Property Warehouse, as it's formally known by the department, is currently holding approximately 80,000 guns. There about 56,000 handguns, nearly 2,000 assault weapons and 21 machine guns.
"They come in all shapes and sizes," said McCarthy. "It just goes on and on and on, and I've seen personally guns from World War II, and that gun will kill you today just as it would've in 1944."
So why does Chicago seize so many more guns than other cities? McCarthy points to gun laws in the state that he thinks are too lax. McCarthy has pushed for legislation mandating the reporting of any gun that's been lost, stolen or given away. He points to the shooting of police officer Del Pearson in 2012. The gun used to shoot him was purchased 41 years ago by a 52-year-old woman in Blue Island. She died in Arkansas in 2006, but the only record of that gun was made when she purchased it in 1972.
"So we don't know where that gun has been since 1972. Was she a straw-purchaser? I don't know. Maybe. Was the gun stolen in a burglary? Maybe. The fact is with zero accountability, this is what happens. Those guns are legally purchased, illegally transferred and end up on the streets," Chicago's top cop said.
The task of managing all the fire power in the warehouse is monumental. Nearly all of it is evidence and needs to be cataloged and maintained until its case is closed. Some of the guns will never leave.
"We have to take great care that we're not going to dispose of that weapon before the statute of limitations expires or, like with a murder, we're going to keep it indefinitely," explained Cmdr. Mike Mealer.
The Chicago Police Department has recently changed the way it plans to destroy guns. Beginning in January, they'll be shredded instead of melted down. Mealer said that should allow officers to double the number of weapons they destroy each month.
McCarthy announced earlier this week that homicides in Chicago are down 19 percent so far in 2012. Shootings, he said, are his number one crime-fighting priority.
"We focus on reducing shootings because in a city where 87 percent of your murders happen by gunshot, you reduce the gunshots, you reduce the murder rate," McCarthy explained.