-- A masked thief smashed through the glass door of GTX Guns in Georgetown, Texas early in the morning of May 9. In just 7 seconds he was off with an armful of guns.
This past April in Hampton, Virginia, crooks used a stolen car to crash through the front door of Treasure Chest Pawn and Gun. Several guns were gone in less than 45 seconds.
In early Mach, a dramatic smash and grab played out in Houston, where as many as 10 suspects used chains to rip the metal bars off the front of Carter’s Country gun store in Houston. More than 50 guns were stolen in less than 2 minutes.
According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), gun store burglaries are on the rise -- a 28 percent increase from 2013 to 2015, with more than 1,100 federally licensed gun dealers victimized and more than 12,000 handguns, shotguns and rifles stolen.
Thieves have been using any means necessary to get their hands on valuable firearms, breaking through walls, ceilings and even using blow torches to try to get to the guns.
In one case, the suspects used a big-rig truck cab to smash through the front of a gun store in Ventura, California last March and steal about 15 guns.
ATF Resident Agent in Charge Scott Fulkerson says getting those guns off the street is a top priority for the agency. “We know that from experience that as soon as those guns are stolen, we have a very short period of time between when those guns go from the legal market into criminal hands and then are being used in crimes almost instantly,” Fulkerson said.
The Rooster Bait and Tackle gun store, in Rapid City, SD, was burglarized last April. Just weeks later, three of the guns turned up in crimes 400 miles away near Denver, Colorado.
Two of those guns were allegedly found with 37-year-old murder suspect Jose Ocampo in Lakewood, Colorado after a standoff with police. Ocampo is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the shooting of a man in a motel parking lot. He is due in court June 17.
Another of those stolen gun from South Dakota was allegedly found last week in the hands of armed carjacking suspect Stephen Ray Schuster in Aurora, Colorado. Schuster allegedly took a Jeep Cherokee at gunpoint and then rammed a police vehicle, leading authorities on a 15-minute chase. Schuster allegedly pulled a gun on police who shot and killed him. Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz says Schuster, who had a lengthy criminal history, had deadly intentions. “The suspect said that he would kill cops if necessary to avoid going back to jail,” Metz said.
ATF has made recommendations to the gun dealers on measures they can take to physically secure their facilities and secure their stocks of firearms to prevent them from being stolen.
After Powhatan, Virginia gun dealer American Family Pawn was burglarized last year, owner Kevin Penrose fortified his building.
“I now have shatter-proof glass. I have bars on every single window. I have sensors," he said. "I have a light alarm, so if the police are driving by, not only if they can't hear the sirens from the outside, they're going to see this strobing flashing light, so it's more notification. As soon as anything is broken everything goes off.”
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of the headline incorrectly stated the timeframe as two years. In fact, more than 12,000 firearms were burglarized over a three year period, from 2013 through 2015.