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Portland's gun violence: Where are the guns coming from?

Police believe most crime guns in Portland are either stolen, bought through an illegal straw purchase or obtained through the underground gun market.

PORTLAND, Ore — As the number of shootings in Portland has spiked, so has the number of guns on its streets.

Through October, Portland officers confiscated 1,033 guns — far more than all of last year when police seized 866 guns.

More than half the guns seized in Portland are semi-automatic pistols. What makes semiautomatics particularly appealing to criminals is they generally have a higher capacity than revolvers, meaning they can fire more shots before having to reload.

“It’s one of the more inexpensive pistols we see, we see a lot of them,” said Sgt. Mark Friedman of Portland Police Bureau (PPB).

So, where are the guns coming from?

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“They’re coming from a variety of sources,” said Friedman.

Police theorize most crime guns in Portland are obtained illegally from three different sources: They’re either stolen, bought through an illegal straw purchase, or picked up in the underground gun market.

Credit: KGW Staff

“The vast majority come from private citizens who haven’t secured their firearms properly and they're stolen from their homes or vehicles,” said Jason Chudy, spokesperson for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) in Seattle.

Several shootings in Portland, including the September 2020 murder of LaSalle Shakier have been linked to stolen guns.

Guns used in violent crimes and murders are also coming from straw purchases. A straw purchase is when someone who can’t legally get a gun, such as a convicted felon, has someone buy it on their behalf. 

Last month, federal prosecutors accused two Portland gang members of straw purchasing more than 80 guns. Investigators linked the illegally purchased guns to 10 shootings in the Portland area.

RELATED: Gresham brothers charged for illegally buying 82 guns linked to at least 10 shootings

Crime guns are also coming from the underground market, explain police.

Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram are filled with images of young men and their guns. The weapons are often traded for drugs or money.

“You’d be amazed how many gun transactions are facilitated by the use of social media,” said Sgt. Friedman. “Couple hundred dollars change hands and you’ve got a firearm.”

Credit: KGW Staff

It’s the availability and sheer number of guns on the street that frightens Seneca Alexander Sr. The Portland man lost his 17-year-old son to gun violence.

RELATED: Is social media contributing to Portland’s rise in gun violence?

“I’m sure that anyone can get a gun who wants to get one,” warned Alexander Sr.

Some of the guns are being modified into mini-machine guns. In several cases, police found guns altered with what’s called a Glock Switch or Glock Auto Sear, which is illegal.

Police figure most of the guns used in Portland shootings were obtained illegally but overall, legal gun sales are through the roof. Last year, Oregon saw a record number of background checks, which suggests more people are getting guns.

RELATED: FBI conducted record number of firearm background checks in 2020, data shows

Credit: KGW Staff
Seneca Alexander Sr. lost his 17-year-old son to gun violence.

“People are afraid,” said Alexander Sr. “You might not have somebody who is a gang member or someone who is in that life but they might have a gun because they are scared.”

Often, a single gun is used repeatedly, in multiple different crimes.

Police analyzed spent casings and found so far this year, 33% of the guns have connections to another Portland shooting — suggesting that the same guns are being passed around or used by repeat shooters.

WATCH: Is social media contributing to Portland's rise in gun violence?

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