On the south side of Chicago, in one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods, brazen criminals occasionally hit the gangster’s jackpot: they loot freight containers carrying shiny, new guns.
The guns – boxes and boxes of them – are part of shipments that are destined for gun companies or gun shops across the country. But as gangsters have caught on to the practice, they are ransacking these trains and stealing weapons that eventually make their way to the city’s blood-soaked streets.
“Any time you have individuals who can go in and steal guns from a train, that makes the environment very toxic,” said Pastor Cory Brooks, who leads a church around the corner from the freight yard.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said that since 2013, more than 150 firearms have been reported stolen from freight trains. An Associated Press investigation revealed that some were traced to violent crimes and only 16 were recovered.
In a city already reeling from one of the most violent crime waves in years, where tens of thousands of firearms are recovered from the streets every year, 150 stolen guns might not seem like a big deal. But one single gun can be linked to at least 14 fatal shootings, according to the ATF.
“How in the world are these kids getting these guns? I see them on Facebook. Everybody got guns. They can’t go purchase a gun, so where are they getting them from?” said city alderwoman Emma Mitts of the 37th Ward.
In one instance, thieves stole more than 100 new Ruger handguns described as “pretty” in comparison to the shoddy, makeshift guns criminals in Chicago’s rough streets often use.
Brooks and Mitts both partially blame Norfolk Southern, the rail yard, saying it could easily beef up security to protect the sitting freight on its tracks. They said the company needs to do something before the weapons get in the hands of more dangerous criminals.
“We need to be concerned about terrorists who could get into these areas unprotected here and steal things and explosives and really hurt our communities,” Brooks said.
Norfolk Southern told Fox News that it’s fully liable for any stolen property. The company said it takes the issue seriously, working with all law levels of law enforcement and recently increasing security around its tracks.
“While we can’t discuss the specifics of the ongoing investigations, we are taking significant steps to evaluate and adapt our security protocols, prevent criminal trespass and address community concerns,” Norfolk Southern spokeswoman Susan Terpay wrote in an email.
While working on this story, Fox News noticed a very responsive presence of security near the train yard.
“Norfolk Southern’s Chicago-based police department, the largest freight railroad law enforcement force in the city, is increasing patrols of rail yards using uniformed officers in marked cars and K-9 units,” Terpay wrote. “In addition, the department is conducting undercover surveillance investigations.”
The company is hoping that beefed-up security at the rail yard would appease neighbors trying to keep guns out criminal hands in one of America’s deadliest communities.
“It only compounds that damage being done to our city,” Brooks said, “and it only hurts the individuals who are trying to live here and have a safe environment.”
Matt Finn is a Fox News correspondent based in the Chicago bureau. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFinnFNC