Gun Thefts in the U.S. Are Skyrocketing and Investigators Have No Idea Why

January 19, 2018, 11:29 AM UTC

Stealing from people almost guaranteed to be armed would seem like a dumb idea to most, but not everybody got the memo. Firearm theft from licensed retailers including gun stores is becoming increasingly common, according to data released by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives this week.

The number of robberies of federal firearms licensees reported to the ATF have increased 227% since 2013 and burglaries of such gun purveyors are up 71% over that same period.

To make matters worse, the quantity of firearms stolen has increased as thefts become more frequent. In 2013, 3,355 firearms were taken in burglaries, compared with 7,841 in 2017, with a steady increase each year. The trend is slightly different for robberies, which tend to leave perpetrators less time to gather up guns: that number increased from 96 in 2013 to 370 in 2016, but fell to 288 last year.

Guns are rarely inexpensive items and often the target of thieves. But the government doesn’t seem to have an answer for this particular crime wave. The ATF said it’s looking into the data in order “to identify causation for the uptick in these types of crimes over the past five years,” a spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

Read: How Google AI Was Tricked Into Thinking This Photo of Machine Guns Was a Helicopter

Texas gun licensees lost the most firearms in burglaries last year, 769, followed by 456 in Alabama and 427 in both Colorado and Georgia. That’s a big decrease for Georgia, which topped the states at 1,069 such stolen firearms last year.

“Criminals know that gun stores can be easy targets to obtain armfuls of firearms in a matter of minutes. Every successful break-in opens a new threat to our community and puts law enforcement officers at risk,” David Chipman, a senior policy advisor at Giffords Law Center, a gun control advocacy group, said in a statement.

Read: Commentary: Congress Is About to Let People Carry Guns Anywhere in the U.S.

Chipman, a former ATF special agent, added that “when states require gun dealers to take responsible steps to prevent their stores from being burglarized—by properly securing not only their stores, but the firearms themselves—they eliminate the risk of thieves taking off with weapons. We know how to solve this problem, but we need more states to acknowledge this issue and put best practices for reducing gun store theft into action.”

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