WASHINGTON (ABC7) — The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) reports there has been a significant spike in the amount of licensed gun stores falling victim to criminals nationwide.
Last month, the federal law enforcement agency compiled a detailed public report documenting the perplexing uptick.
According to the ATF, in 2012, there were 377 burglaries of licensed gun stores nationwide. In 2016, that figure rose to 558 - a 48 percent increase. In 2012, there were 12 robberies of licensed gun stores nationwide. In 2016, that figure rose to 33 - a staggering 175 percent increase.
All combined, 7,858 firearms were stolen from licensed gun dealers in 2016, 76 percent more than in 2012. The ATF highlights that many of the weapons were sold for top dollar on the black market in cities across America, in turn, contributing to increased crime and violence.
“It’s a growing trend and we’re concerned about it," ATF Special Agent Dave Cheplak with the Baltimore Field Office said. “Our goal is to make sure that these weapons don’t wind up in the hands of the criminal element."
The ATF's statistics show Georgia, Florida and Texas had the highest number of gun store burglaries and robberies in 2016, in part due to the fact that there are more firearms dealers in those states. In 2016, Virginia reported 23 gun store burglaries and zero robberies, while Maryland had four gun store burglaries and three robberies.
For context, a burglary involves the act of breaking and entering a building with the intent of committing a crime. A robbery, however, must involve the act of threatening a human being in attempt to obtain a material possession. Because many gun shop employees "pack heat", most criminals prefer to break into gun stores overnight.
The ATF admits it's unsure as to why more people are targeting gun shops, a seemingly risky endeavor, but investigators assert there are a wide variety of motivating factors.
“There are certainly organized gangs that are looking to acquire the firearms for themselves and for members of their gangs," Cheplak remarked. "There are also individuals who see an opportunity to acquire firearms knowing that they can get a good price for them, whether they are trying to feed their own narcotics habit, or in all likelihood, just trying to make more money.”
The U.S. government does not require the nearly 65,000 nationwide licensed gun shops to meet any particular security measures, although a number of states do have certain requirements. Nevertheless, the ATF does recommend that all commercial dealers install a robust alarm system, high-definition security cameras with audio, place bars on all windows, plus sturdy doors with multiple locks at all entrances. The ATF also advises that employees place all firearms in a safe or vault during after hours to add an extra layer of theft prevention.
The United Gun Shop in Rockville followed all of those recommendations, except for the last. That gave two unknown burglars the upper hand when they broke into the locally owned shop early Thursday morning.
According to Montgomery County Police, Ackerman Security reported the burglary alarm to Montgomery County's Emergency Communications Center at 3:48 a.m. Dispatchers relayed the priority call to patrol officers at 3:50 a.m. The first unit arrived on scene at 3:56 a.m., eight minutes later. However, the criminals were long gone, snagging 31 firearms in less than 90 seconds.
“It’s obvious that the criminals in this particular case were not looking to simply add firearms to their own personal collections. These guns are destined to wind up on the streets of Baltimore and D.C. They’ll be traded for narcotics; they’ll be sold to anyone who’s willing to buy them," Cheplak added.
As of Friday evening, the burglars in the Rockville case were still at large. Authorities are offering a reward of up to $10,000 for the arrest and conviction of the suspects involved in the United Gun Shop burglary. Anyone with information is asked to call the ATF 24/7 hotline at 1-888-ATF-TIPS (1-888-283-8477) or send an email to ATFTips@atf.gov.