SAN QUENTIN (CBS SF) — Behind the historic walls of San Quentin are scores of men who wrote their life stories by committing acts of violence. Most of them used a gun.
While the debate over gun control rages outside the walls of the famed prison, inside those convicted of violent acts including murder freely voiced their opinion on how easy it was to get a weapon.
Rahsaan Thomas was convicted of second-degree murder at the age of 29. He got his gun illegally on the streets.
“(I got it from the) back of a trunk,” he said. “600 bucks. It’s easy, easy as having the money.”
Micheal Webb was 17 when he was convicted of murder. He has been behind bars for 47 years.
“I got mine illegally,” he said. “Hanging out on the street corner so I was able to get it.”
Branden Riddle-Terrell, who has been convicted of manslaughter, echoed the responses of others.
“If you wanna get a gun in America, you’re gonna get a gun in America,” he said.
In the summer of 1977, Lonnie Morris used an unregistered gun to kill a San Pablo police officer.
“No, it wasn’t registered, or background checked,” Morris said. “I just bought it from somebody on the streets.”
Morris was convicted of first degree murder and has been in prison for 40 years. He says guns make it to the streets through a variety of ways.
“They (criminals) get’em off the streets, but they get’em from people who have went to gun shows, or gun stores, who bought guns,” he said. “Or they burglarized them from houses of people who bought the guns.”
Markee Carter, a former member of the Long Beach Insane Crips, is serving time for three attempted murders in 1994. He says it’s easy to get a gun on the streets.
“It’s too easy to buy a gun,” he said. “I can get out right now, and I ain’t never been nowhere up this way, but if I have $500 right now I can get me a gun, just like that. Easy? Yeah, that’s crazy!”
But Carter says in some neighborhoods you need guns to protect yourself.
“You gotta be strapped because you don’t never know who gonna rob you or kill you,” he said.
It’s a lifestyle all to familiar to Hieu Nguyen — a former San Jose gang member who is serving time for second-degree murder.
“I carried a gun all the time,” he said. “I used to have a Mac-10, I used to have a .44, a 380, a 9 millimeter.”
Hieu believes banning guns will only heat up the black market for weapons.
“Those gangs, those criminal people, that want to do criminal thing they will go to the black market and purchase the gun,” he said.
Branden Riddle-Terrell was chased across three counties in 2012 after he had stabbed a man to death near Auburn. He says he could have easily gotten a gun if he wanted one.
“If I wanted a gun, I knew people who sold guns, who stole guns,” he said. “The gang lifestyle, the street lifestyle, there’s guns all over the place available and none of them are registered. They’re all stolen.”
When Riddle-Terrell leaves San Quentin, he will not be able to legally owned a gun. He says that may be a problem.
“I get out there and say someone wants to retaliate, (like you guys) I’m getting out of prison, I’m gonna be in my home, you know 10, 11 O’Clock at night what if someone comes from my past come tries to kick down my door and I can’t defend myself?” he said.
Patrick Fletcher, who killed a man in Oakland in 1984, believes in gun control particularly when it comes to assault weapons.
“AR-15s, they don’t have no place in our society,” he said. “That’s too much firepower just to be on the streets.”
Gary Robeson, convicted of the first degree murder of a Richmond man, also believes some controls are needed.
“No one gets up in the morning and says I’m gonna go kill someone but that’s actually what happens when you have a gun,” he said. “That’s what you have a gun for.”
“If you come in and say — ‘Hey I wanna buy an AR-15, you should be red flagged,” he added. “Why do you need to buy an AR-15?”
But Thomas disagrees.
“If a guy has a 9mm instead of an AR-15, he maybe kill 7 people instead of 15, but it doesn’t stop it,” he said.
He says on the streets, guns often lead to violence.
“If somebody’s trying to take something from you, you shoot them,” he said. “If somebody tries to harm your family, you don’t go to police, you go to court in the street.”
Morris says he believes there has to balance that leaves room for gun ownership.
“You have a right to bear arms and then its given to us as a society to determine what amount of arms are and I think in this society, and this day and time, young people are saying there shouldn’t be so many arms,” he said.
Fletcher would go further than that.
“Bottom line, guns kill, y’know. And best thing you can do is keep ’em out your hands,” he said.