The FBI’s 2010 Uniform Crime Report showed that 56 percent of aggravated assaults in Richmond County ended in someone being shot. The national average is 18 percent; in Georgia, 25 percent.
The Richmond County percentage is actually down from previous years. In 2007 and 2008, more than 70 percent of aggravated assaults were shootings – four times the U.S. rate and nearly three times Georgia’s rate. Data for 2009 were not available.
Lt. Calvin Chew oversaw the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office’s violent crimes division until January, when he became the administrative lieutenant over criminal investigations. He attributed the county’s high numbers to the wide availability of guns, legal or otherwise.
“It’s not a hard thing to do to get your hands on a gun,” Chew said. “Guns are just more available in the South and the criminal element is well-armed.”
William Reese, a professor of criminal justice and sociology at Augusta State University, said the area’s high rate of gun violence could be attributed to two major factors: Augusta’s location and the culture of the South in general.
“Here in the South, there’s a tendency to settle interpersonal disputes with violence instead of discussion or calling the police to intervene,” he said. “Firearms also carry prestige around here. It’s a symbol of status and kids want that reputation, that mark of manhood.”
Reese also said Augusta is part of a long corridor of illegal guns regularly moving up the East Coast. Weapons come to the South on boats and planes and make their way up the coast, especially to New York, he said.
Reese said the corridor was becoming more evident on the federal level. He thinks many illegal weapons finish their journey north early when they find their way into the hands of area criminals.
“The availability of the guns is really all you need to know,” Reese said. “When the culture dictates that you solve those things with violence, shootings become statistically predictable.”
Chew said the tide has turned in the battle to get guns off the street and that the situation is improving.
“This became our main concern – to make the public safe,” he said. “Getting illegal guns off the street is a great way to do so, and we’re not going to stop until there are no illegal guns out there being
used during violent crimes.
“We’ve seen violent crimes and assaults committed with guns decrease every year since 2008. The progress from year to year has been gradual, but dropping from 73 percent in 2008 to 56 percent in 2010 is a huge step.”
Chew said recent sting operations – Operation Augusta Ink, Operation Fox Hunt and Operation Smoke Screen – led to the drop. The three undercover stings in the past five years resulted in more than 200 arrests and the seizure of at least 600 firearms.
Despite those successes, the battle against gun violence
is far from over, Chew said.
“We’ve let the criminals know we’re going to be actively going after them,” he said.