Assault rifles flow freely from Nevada

High-powered assault rifles aren't that hard to find - even for a convicted felon like Lovelle Mixon.

The kind of AK-47 that Mixon used to kill Oakland police officers Saturday can be had on the street for as little as $400.

Often they come from Nevada, where selling assault rifles is perfectly legal, unlike in California. Then they are brought to the Bay Area and resold.

If the buyer has a criminal past, "they have a friend - usually a girlfriend with no record - buy three or four," said one San Francisco narcotics cop who didn't want his name used because the department has not cleared him to speak publicly.

"Sometimes they all pitch in to buy them. Other times someone will go up, buy four guns, then come back and sell three of them to cover the cost of the one they keep."

"It's a right-to-your-door deal," the cop said.

Sometimes the crooks don't even bother with a middleman. Federal agents have a video from 2005 of a suspected West Sacramento gangbanger walking out of a Reno gun show with a newly purchased AK-47 strapped across his chest.

A source in the state Department of Justice told us the price of a semiautomatic assault rifle can jump significantly if the gun has been illegally modified to be fully automatic. But making the conversion isn't that tough.

"Sometimes it's done in garage workshops," the state source said. "It's a fairly simple procedure if you know what you're doing."

Once on the street, the guns are often moved from place to place, stashed in the home or apartment of a friend or relative - like a grandmother. "Someone without a record," our cop source said.

AK assault-style weapons are favored for their power and accuracy. They're good for turf fights.

"But they're pretty bulky," the cop said. "Smaller weapons are actually preferred by the pros, but they can cost twice as much."

The bulky AK assault weapons, however, are not losing their market share. Many are now being shipped south of the border for combatants in Mexico's growing drug wars.

Authorities say drug lords flush with cash are willing to pay twice the going rate for the weapons. Like most guns, AK rifles are illegal in Mexico, but the drug gangs can smuggle them in easily using their existing routes for narcotics.

Last year, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives traced 7,500 weapons seized in Mexican drug raids - many them AK-47-type rifles - back to the United States, many of them from California.

"It's a big story," said Nina Delgadillo, spokeswoman for the agency's regional office. "You are talking about the type of firepower nobody wants to come up against."