Number of firearms stolen from gun stores spiked in 2016, finds new ATF report

Gun store burglaries continue to rise.

— -- The number of firearms stolen during gun store burglaries was up nearly 59 percent from 4,721 in 2015 to 7,488 in 2016, according to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives' annual Federal Firearms Licensee Theft/Loss report released Tuesday.

"It's a lot of guns in one place and one they [criminals] realize instead of having to find one gun on street corner or a dark alley they can go to a place where there's a lot of guns, and quite honestly, I think the word gets out," said Kevin O'Keefe, chief of the ATF's Operational Intelligence Division.

A total of 18,394 lost or stolen firearms were reported nationwide last year from federally licensed gun stores.

Gun store burglaries were up 28 percent from 463 burglary incidents 2015 to 558 in 2016. The ATF predicted in November of last year that the number of burglaries would top 500 in 2016.

This report comes as authorities are still searching for Joseph Jakubowski, the Janesville man who, one week ago, burglarized a gun store, stealing 16 guns after sending an anti-government manifesto to the president. The FBI on Tuesday increased its reward to up to $20,000 for information leading to the successful location of Jakubowski.

On Monday, the Zephyrhills Police Department in Florida released surveillance footage of a burglary, showing the pickup truck barreling through the front of the Sunshine State Armory at around 2 a.m. Sunday.

The number of thefts has been increasing in recent years. Since 2012, the number of burglaries has increased by 48 percent. The number of firearms stolen during the course of those burglaries has risen by nearly 73 percent since 2012, according to the ATF.

The majority of the firearms that are stolen end up in the same or nearby metro area as the theft, according to the ATF.

"The quicker we recover these firearms, either ourselves or with our state and local partners, the more likelihood it's still in that general metro area," said O'Keefe.

The more time that goes by, the tendency is that the firearms will appear farther away from the location of the theft, according to O'Keefe.

"Firearms are not perishable," he said.

Some firearms are stolen "purely for profit," and some are stolen to use directly in crimes, he added.

Most of these thefts occur at smaller, independent shops that are located in more remote areas. There is a correlation between states with a high number of gun stores and a high number of burglaries. Texas, Georgia, Florida, California and North Carolina all had 30 or more reported burglaries last year.

The ATF doesn’t have one answer for why these burglaries are on the rise but says it’s a combination of criminal appetite, seeing success and doing it again, copycats and the ability to get a lot of guns at once.

The one constant is the very short amount of time it takes to burglarize a store, which has never exceeded 3-and-a-half minutes, according to Andrew Graham, ATF deputy assistant director of Industry Operations.

In order to try to thwart this dangerous trend, the ATF launched in February an “FFL alert” system, which sends automated phone calls to all registered firearms dealers in a given county when there is an incident.

The ATF is in the process of assesses the effectiveness of the alert system.