CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Data released by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) detailed the top recovery cities for firearms in South Carolina.
North Charleston, Summerville, Beaufort and Charleston are among the top ten cities in the state where firearms were recovered.
98.8% of the 6,277 firearms recovered in South Carolina in 2015, the most recently available numbers, were pistols, shotguns, rifles and revolvers.
We sat down with agents in Charleston's ATF office to discuss recent weapons trafficking trends they say are alarming.
ATF Public Information Officer Gerod King said for years, public attention has focused on the "Iron Pipeline."
The nickname refers to guns trafficked up the east coast from southern states to northern states that have stricter gun laws.
But, King said, that trend has reversed in South Carolina.
"We've seen a trend reversing with our firearms. Once upon a time, most of them would head to the northeast from North and South Carolina. Here lately, we've seen the bulk of them stay within the local area."
He said that is concerning because it means there is plenty of local demand within the state.
"Why go all the way to New York when you can steal it here and sell it here?"
In other port cities like Jacksonville, Florida, ATF has announced concerns with international weapons smuggling.
But King said Charleston's port doesn't seem to be the major catalyst for weapons trafficking here.
"For us, it's regional. It's North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. We have good intelligence over the last year and a half that reflects we have criminals crossing those three state lines to commit crimes," King said.
He says high-population cities naturally have more crime. But they believe a group called the O-Block Money Gang was also contributing to making Charleston and Dorchester Counties a hotspot for armed narcotic trafficking.
The ATF gave us access to pictures of weapons seized in Charleston area during that operation. Undercover agents acquired more than 58 weapons, 3.5 lbs. of crack and cocaine, meth and heroin. The U.S. Attorney and local solicitor issued 42 arrest warrants.
"It's time our young people to wake up. Take responsibility for who you are and what you are and we will work with you," said North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey.
Another concerning trend ATF is tracking involves gun stores being burglarized.
"In the past year in North and South Carolina, we were number one for Federal Firearms Licensees being robbed or burglarized," said King.
He said that sometimes meant hundreds of weapons were stolen and shuffled underground in one burglary.
ATF has been working with FFLs throughout the Lowcountry to increase their security and offer advice for preventing break-ins.
"When firearms are acquired illegally, they go into a life of crime. They do not go to law abiding citizens. That's the thing that keeps law enforcement people up at night. We don't know what could be done with these things," said King.
"It could be robbery, firearms trafficking, drug deals, it could be homicides."
We talked to one of ATF's undercover agents in Charleston, who must stay anonymous for his safety.
He shared a case example out of Beaufort County. The Sheriff's Office called in ATF to assist after they found guns, crack, pot, pills, bullet proof gear and a white mask in the home 20-year-old Malcom Anthony Moore was living in.
Of the 20 guns stashed there, ATF says at least seven were stolen. Two were traced as stolen from a gun store in Georgia, the ATF agent said.
"These were two expensive, thousand-dollar-a-piece, AR-15 type rifles that wound up in this young man's house in Beaufort, SC," the undercover agent said. "It's an indication of how stolen guns move through illegal commerce and show up in unexpected places."
ATF said Malcom Moore was caught with guns and drugs three separate times as his cases worked through the court system. Court documents show he eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 63 months in prison.
Investigators says it's an example of how they have to root out sources for illegal trafficking to slow it down.
US Attorney Beth Drake made several announcements throughout South Carolina last week about undercover operations and arrests for drugs and weapons trafficking.
"Our office focuses on repeat offenders… We want those defendants to get behind bars and keep them there for a period of time to allow them to get out of drug trafficking and reform," Drake said.
"We want people to know what we're doing to make the safe, what we're doing for the community," said King.