BALTIMORE (WJZ) — It is an epidemic across our city. WJZ investigates illegal guns in the hands of criminals.

Mary Bubala traces one gun’s deadly trail, asking what can be done to get these dangerous weapons off our streets.

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Just after midnight, a bad guy with an illegal gun opened fire, killing a man in Northeast Baltimore. The first shooting rang out in the 2600 block of East Monument Street. While detectives were on the scene gathering evidence, there was another shooting 45 minutes later and just blocks away. The same suspect reportedly shot and killed another man. When they got to the crime scene on North Rose Street, it was the same gun.

“One gun, two families whose lives have been destroyed at at least changed in a matter of minutes,” said Donny Moses, Baltimore City Police Department.

The illegal gun is just one of thousands taken off city streets since then. But how did that gun — a Rossi .38 caliber revolver — end up here?

“A significant portion of guns recovered in Baltimore City were stolen at some point,” said U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein.

That’s exactly how that gun ended up in Baltimore. Stolen from a gun shop in North Carolina in 2009, it landed in a Glen Burnie gun shop. A woman in Pasadena bought it, but it was stolen again. Three years later, city police tell WJZ it hit Baltimore’s streets in the hands of a criminal who’s ready to kill.

“It was never reported stolen; it was never reported missing. It just miraculously appeared in Baltimore as it took two young lives,” Moses said.

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WJZ investigates just how many illegal guns are out there. While that number is hard to measure, city police say they’ve already gotten nearly 3,500 illegal guns off the streets since last year. Many line the walls of the city police crime lab run by Steve O’Dell.

Even linking one illegal gun to multiple crimes can have an effect.

“It leads to case closures. It leads to solving a crime, to linking a crime. It leads to getting bad guys off the street. It leads to substantial criminal charges,” O’Dell said.

That’s exactly what happened in those two killings.

“That gun was finally taken off the streets,” Moses said. “Taken off the streets two bodies too late.”

But thousands and thousands are still out there. Now the feds and city cops are teaming up to crack down on gun-toting criminals.

“More people are carrying guns in the street. And the consequence of that is you get more random shootings, more shootings that arise out of momentary, spur-of-the-moment disputes, in addition to the traditional targeted killings,” Rosenstein said. “The message we hope to send is to leave the guns at home or be prepared to spend time in a federal prison if you’re caught.”

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Coming up later this week — WJZ takes you inside the city police crime lab for a rare look at exactly how they can link just one gun to multiple crimes.