Unlocked cars become main source of stolen guns, fueling violence on Tampa Bay area streets

Dan Smith

Law enforcement in the Tampa Bay area says unlocked cars are a leading cause of gun theft and fuel street violence.

Jayquon Johnson's bright smile disappeared on January 1, 2017 and can now only be seen in pictures.

"He had an infectious smile that could lift anyone going through anything," Johnny Johnson said. "As a parent, just receiving that call makes you shiver." ”

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The phone call Johnny Johnson received has never left his mind. His 17-year-old son, an outstanding basketball player at Brandon High School, was shot dead in Barrico.

Jayquon Johnson was a basketball player at Brandon High School. He was shot dead in Val Rico when he was 17 years old.

Nearly five years later, he's working to end gun violence.

"We defend the victims because it hurts so much. It's devastating. There's nothing to ease the pain," he said.

Johnson is now co-founder of Rise Up For Peace, which works to reach out to kids before they reach out to guns.

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"It breaks my heart every day that I have to face a life that isn't a club that no family, no mother, no one wants to enter," Johnson said.

The 17-year-old's father is now the co-founder of Rise Up For Peace. Rise Up For Peace is a group working to reach out to pre-gun children.

Shooting is non-discriminatory and seen in all communities.

“This is a huge increase. We are seeing this across the Tampa Bay area. We have to come together as a community to stop this because more lives will be lost,” said Manatee County Sheriff Rick. Wells said.

In 2021, Sheriff Wells said juvenile gun violence is on the rise as other crimes continue.

"This is also linked to an increase in vehicle robberies involving juveniles who leave guns in vehicles without locking the doors," Wells said.

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Vehicle robberies are up 19% in Manatee County. Most of the cars are unlocked, and teens can easily get hold of anything left inside, including guns.

"People are dying because these guns are so easy to get. If you do a few simple things every night, like getting rid of your guns and all your personal belongings and locking your doors at night, many of us would be better off in our neighborhoods." It's a problem we're seeing in the United States," said Sheriff Wells.

In Sarasota County, 25 car break-ins have stolen guns this year alone. The Bradenton Police Department reports that 50 guns are stolen from residents each year.

Most are handguns taken from unlocked cars. The St. Petersburg Police Department reported that in the city he had 198 guns stolen and 131 stolen from cars.

"Unfortunately, they are in the wrong hands," said SPPD assistant chief Michael Kovacsev. “They are traded between different individuals and it is always a cat-and-mouse game.

Kovachev said shootings do happen from time to time, but when they do, young lives are lost.

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"It could be a discussion at school or a simple topic that comes up from a neighborhood group that tends to go wrong," he said. It’s a matter of constantly trying to keep track of community trends in order to do so.”

St. Pete Police are urging residents to lock their doors and not leave their guns unattended. They also reach out to young people through microgrants and strive to provide them with options before violence occurs.

“Providing financial support to local nonprofits and city groups gives them a safe place to do productive things. It's the least we can do."

Jequon Johnson's father, Johnny Johnson, works to ensure others don't go through his pain.

Johnny Johnson won't get his son back but is working to prevent others from going through his pain. He said it starts with each of us taking our own responsibilities .

“Each child.Each story.It just restarts my life and caring for their parents.Because I know there are going to be hard days that I don’t know if you will make it. is.