‘Operation Young Guns’ nets 200+ juvenile gun cases in Florida, agencies say

4-county operation going on the last six months

FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. – A new operation targeting gun violence and young offenders has led to more than 200 cases in the 7th Judicial Circuit in just the last 6 months, according to the state attorney’s office.

State Attorney R.J. Larizza announced “Operation Young Guns” alongside all four sheriffs in the circuit, Flagler, Volusia, St. Johns, and Putnam counties, on Monday afternoon. The operation is a partnership with law enforcement agencies along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and Florida Department of Law Enforcement, to crack down on young people committing violent crimes with guns.

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The ATF’s National Integrated Ballistic Information Network is a key part of the crackdown, which creates a database to help solve cases.

“Every gun possesses a unique set of characteristics, much like DNA fingerprints, and it’s imprinted on cartridge cases and bullets when its fired, and that’s what NIBIN is. It’s able to compare those,” said Shannon Hamm, special agent in charge of ATF’s Jacksonville field office.

Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said the operation is an active approach to stopping gun violence involving youth. Since May, it’s led to 100 defendants facing 283 charges in Volusia.

“We had an incident in DeLand, several incidents actually, around Thanksgiving over a 10-day period. There were seven people shot, one dead, and at least 5 other incidents of gunshots,” Chitwood said. “We formed a task force with DeLand, and we went after it. We made 75 arrests. We seized 13 firearms including one ghost gun.”

According to Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly, his agency arrested a 13-year-old boy over the weekend for a threat.

“We arrested a young man, 13 years old, for making a threat to shoot up a school in Flagler County because he was angry over a dance party he didn’t go to, and he had access to a gun,” Staly said.

Larizza called the trend troubling while speaking Monday.

“It’s extremely troubling because here’s what happens: they get the guns, they migrate. They don’t just stay in St, Johns County or Volusia County or Putnam,” Larizza said.

Larizza said prosecutors are finding the guns in some cases are stolen and linked to multiple crimes.

“These guns are traded, and they’re sold, and they’re used over and over and over again,” Larizza said. “We’ve had car breaks where the whole purpose is to get guns, maybe money, but primarily the target is guns.”

Law enforcement in all four counties also encouraged responsible gun ownership as part of their announcement. They’re also asking parents to be involved since young people are the ones committing these crimes.

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Catherine, born and raised in Central Florida, joined News 6 in April 2022.