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Rocket Launchers Were Found In A Trash Can Near A Temecula Middle School

Two rocket launchers on a table
Authorities found two rocket launchers and a practice grenade at a house in Temecula on Tuesday.
(Courtesy Riverside County Sheriff's Department
Courtesy of NPR )
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Two rocket launchers and a practice grenade were found in a trash can at a residence near a California middle school earlier this week, authorities said.

A community service officer with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department found the weapons while carrying out a search warrant in Temecula. Christopher Whetstone, 41, has been arrested on charges of grand theft through video footage and fingerprint evidence.

"During the service of a search warrant, evidence of the original crime was located, along with narcotics, and a bazooka," said Riverside County Sgt. Edward Soto.

Soto said, "Although there is a school located directly behind the concerned residence, a school was not directly involved in the incident."

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Margarita Middle School is less than 300 feet from the block where the weapons were found.

Are these weapons legal?

Grenades and rocket launchers, also known as bazookas, are considered "destructive devices" by the National Firearms Act. They are also classified as firearms and are therefore legal with proper registration.

However, states and localities have the power to further regulate or outlaw the weapons in their jurisdictions.

Possessing a destructive device is illegal in California, if it can be proven in court who it belongs to and that the person knew it was a destructive device.

Penalties for breaking that law — whether treated as a misdemeanor or felony — depends on a suspect's criminal history and the circumstances surrounding the offense.

As a misdemeanor, the crime carries up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. As a felony, perpetrators could face up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

However, legal arguments can be made if there is a permit for the weapon.

Whetstone was arrested Tuesday on charges of grand theft, tampering with a motor vehicle and possession of tear gas, among others. He was not charged with possession of the rocket launchers and grenade.

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"We urge the public to call law enforcement if these items are found or if you would like to dispose of them legally," the sheriff's departmentwrote on Instagram. "Oftentimes, they are found when cleaning out a passed relatives belongings. We would be happy to come make sure they are safe and to dispose of them properly (returned to the military)."

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