California ‘awash in guns,’ feds say as they target illegal firearms and violent crime

Last June, a police officer in the Shasta County city of Anderson pulled over a pickup truck driven by Jim David Travis, a 72-year-old convicted felon who was on searchable probation.

By the time Officer Michael Hallagan finished searching, police seized a loaded .22-caliber Ruger pistol from his truck, a loaded Colt AR-15 rifle from under his bed and a loaded Mauser handgun tucked between a mattress and box spring at his home, court records say.

Normally, Travis’ case would have gone to court in Redding with prosecution by the Shasta County District Attorney’s Office.

Instead, Travis has been charged in federal court in Sacramento as being a felon in possession of a firearm and made an initial appearance Tuesday afternoon, then was sent to be held at the Sacramento County Jail pending the outcome of his case.

“In the old days, he would have been prosecuted by the district attorney,” U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott said Wednesday at a news conference in Sacramento highlighting federal efforts to cut down on gun and violent crimes in the region.

1,600 firearms seized through federal efforts

This year alone, Scott said, 1,600 firearms have been seized in numerous cases in the Eastern District of California, which stretches from the Oregon state line to south of Bakersfield.

The seizures come as part of the Justice Department’s Project Safe Neighborhoods effort, in which local communities’ law enforcement officers are supplemented with federal resources in a bid to reduce violent crime.

Scott and other federal law enforcement leaders credit the effort with increasing federal indictments for firearms-related offenses by 31 percent in the last two years compared to the previous decade.

The efforts, which are focused on seven counties – Sacramento, San Joaquin, Shasta, Fresno, Kern, Solano and Stanislaus – have helped federal and local agents charge hundreds of gang members throughout the region, bust up the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club in Modesto and target felons carrying numerous firearms, officials say.

One case involved Sonny Herrera, a felon with eight prior convictions who was arrested in February for being a felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced a month ago to 51 months in federal prison.

Undocumented immigrant held by feds after fatal DUI

Another targeted Ismael Huazo-Jardinez, a Mexican citizen in the country illegally who was accused of killing a 10-year-old boy and his parents in Sutter County last May after driving drunk and crashing his SUV into their mobile home.

Huazo-Jardinez made bail on the state charges filed in the case, and authorities say they believe he was planning to flee to Mexico before federal agents arrested him and charged him with being an alien in possession of a firearm. That case is pending.

“He stays here so he will, in fact, face his day of judgment for killing three people,” Scott said.

Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones credited the efforts with significantly cutting violent crime in his city last summer after 100 federal agents from around the country came to town to target gang members after three different gang wars began.

“It was extreme violence that erupted all at once,” Jones said.

But teams of agents were able to arrest 101 suspected gang members and seize 20 firearms in weeks, said Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Lasha Boyden.

California ‘awash in guns’

Scott, who previously served as U.S. attorney in Sacramento under President George W. Bush, said the numbers of gun prosecutions have increased dramatically since then.

“It’s off the charts,” he said. “The numbers are infinitely higher.

“California has the most stringent gun laws in the country, but this state is awash in guns.”

One of the greatest concerns is the increasing number of privately made weapons that do not carry serial numbers and are sold illegally, said Jennifer Cicolani, the assistant agent in charge of the San Francisco division of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Several weapons seized by agents were on display at Scott’s offices in downtown Sacramento, along with an auto-sear, a stamp-sized piece of metal that can be inserted into a Glock handgun to essentially turn it into a fully automatic machine gun, ATF Special Agent Brian Hester said.

The devices, which people order by mail from manufacturers in China for as little as $18, are considered a “status symbol” among gang members, he said.

“We are seeing these everywhere in the state of California,” Scott added.

Sam Stanton has worked for The Bee since 1991 and has covered a variety of issues, including politics, criminal justice and breaking news.