Crime

Barricades and security cameras: With more gun store thefts, owners arm themselves

Gun store burglaries nationwide are on the rise.

But Ron Quick isn’t too worried.

For him, concrete barricades and security cameras — among other things — are enough to protect his business.

He’s owned Quick’s Guns and Transfers in Kansas City, Kan., for about two years, opening it after closing Quick’s BBQ at the same location. The old dining room is the gun store’s display room.

“I have no more concern now owning a gun store than I did with a restaurant, to be quite honest,” Quick said.

But the statistics show gun stores increasingly are becoming the targets of thieves.

Last year, 558 burglaries of federally licensed gun dealers were reported nationwide — up nearly 50 percent from five years ago, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The number of guns stolen in gun store burglaries nationwide rose 73 percent — to 7,488 in 2016.

Missouri tied for eighth in the country, with 14 burglaries reported at federally licensed dealers in 2016. Kansas had four burglaries.

Quick had this warning for would-be burglars:

“If you do get into a gun store, you’ve opened a can of worms with the ATF and FBI. It’s not like you’re stealing candy, you know? So people that do that are at a much greater risk of going down much harder than your average burglar.”

Several burglaries occurred in the Kansas City area in the past several months.

On Thursday, three people were caught and taken into custody after stealing 21 guns from Little Joe’s Pawn and Gun in Kansas City, Kan. All of the guns were recovered.

Earlier this month, someone broke into Signature Manufacturing in Merriam and stole several firearms. In January, several guns were stolen from the Olathe Gun Shop in an early-morning burglary.

And in January, a Grandview man was charged with possessing a gun stolen during a Mississippi crime spree that ended in a triple murder.

The penalties are stiff for those caught breaking into a gun store and stealing firearms. But for some criminals, the high risk is worth the potentially high reward.

“The bad guys know they can take these guns and there’s a constant demand on the black market for them,” said John Ham, senior investigator and public information officer for the Kansas City ATF office, which oversees Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska.

Convicted felons who cannot legally get a gun are willing to pay well above the market value.

“The market for that is much larger versus stealing electronics or wheels off cars or whatever somebody’s stealing,” said Mike Brown, CEO of Frontier Justice, a gun store in Lee’s Summit. “They’re going to have a lot more buyers of that product on the black market because now they have something that furthers crime and it’s not tied to the criminal.”

Frontier Justice opened about three years ago with a retail shop, gun range and classroom training programs.

“Like everything, criminals are always trying to be two steps ahead of everybody else, so I think in the future we need to continue to evolve the way we work with law enforcement to keep firearms out of people’s hands that shouldn’t have them,” Brown said.

Robberies up, too

Robberies — where criminals use force or threaten to use force — are much less common than burglaries, but they are still up over the last five years nationally and in Missouri.

Last year, four of the 33 gun store robberies nationwide were in Missouri, putting it second in the country behind Texas with 10. Kansas had none.

In 2015, there was only one gun store robbery in Missouri. Kansas also had one that year, when four men entered She’s a Pistol in Shawnee.

 
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Even though the number of robberies is less than the number of burglaries, the increase shows that some criminals are becoming more brazen.

“In Missouri and Kansas, we’ve been fairly immune to that sort of violence in a gun store, but in the southeast they’ve been hit harder and harder by that type of thing,” Ham said.

“Breaking into a gun store is dangerous. Robbing a gun store is even more dangerous, because typically everybody in there is armed.”

At She’s a Pistol, store owner Jon Bieker was fatally shot and three of the four robbers were wounded, an incident that was captured on store surveillance cameras.

Nationally, ATF has been studying whether most stolen guns stay local or if they are trafficked to other states with more restrictive gun laws.

In the Midwest, guns stolen from stores and in residential burglaries typically stay in the area, and thieves are able to get rid of them quickly. That makes it a challenge for ATF and other law enforcement to investigate because time isn’t on their side, Ham said.

“To the best of our knowledge, we don’t have burglary crews that are out there targeting federal firearms licensees,” Ham said. “But we do know through interviews and working with local law enforcement that we do have residential burglars that target houses where they think there’s a high likelihood they can get firearms.”

He said they’ve seen an increase in the number of guns stolen in residential and car burglaries.

Part of responsible gun ownership, Ham said, is recording information from your guns: manufacturer, model number and serial number.

Law enforcement can only track, and potentially recover, stolen guns if they have that information, he said.

Security measures

When it comes to trying to prevent the thefts at businesses, federal regulations simply require “adequate” security for licensed dealers but offer no specifics on what that means, Ham said.

Adequate security “may mean a deadbolt to some people, or that may mean bars on the windows and a multimillion dollar close-captioned TV system,” Ham said.

“We as an agency don’t have the regulatory authority to come in and say you have to have an alarm system, bars on the windows, cameras. … And while the vast majority of the industry has gone that direction themselves, it still hampers our ability to combat this as effectively as we’d like.”

Oftentimes, business insurance requires certain security measures be taken.

“We have to assume at this point that as this number of burglaries increases, the criminals are educating themselves on which stores may be easier targets than others. ... There is no regulation that says every gun should be locked up in a safe at the close of business every night. That may be an unrealistic expectation at a store with a vast inventory.”

Anything to slow down a burglar from gaining access to the building or from getting to the firearms directly helps.

The longer it takes, Ham said, the more likely the burglar will give up.

“You can tell the quality firearms retailers that take it seriously, whether it’s security systems and cameras or building infrastructure and reducing ways to get into the building,” said Brown of Frontier Justice.

“Our facilities have to spend much more money and investment in security than a lot of other retailers. It’s the cost of doing business in this particular industry. We’re selling a significant product that if used incorrectly can result in somebody being hurt very badly or in loss of life, so we take the responsibility for that product extremely seriously.”

Kelsey Ryan: 816-234-4852, @kelsey_ryan

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