Kansas City’s epidemic of stolen guns hits new high

Thieves are stealing firearms in Kansas City at an alarming and rising rate, new numbers show.

The number of reported thefts hit 886 in 2017 — a 50 percent increase over the past two years.

Kansas City stands out in what has been a national epidemic as more guns than ever are bought, sold — and stolen.

“There is a robust black market in guns,” said Chelsea Parsons, the vice president of guns and crime policy at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.

“It’s a lucrative criminal enterprise,” she said, “and we know stolen guns are not intended for any legitimate purpose. They are passed around through underground networks and used in a crime.”

When The Star first obtained firearms theft data from the Kansas City Police Department last August, the numbers showed how the number of thefts, which had fluctuated between 500 and 600 a year since 2008, leaped to 804 in 2016.

But then it got worse.

The numbers as of August projected a total around 830 for 2017, but firearms thefts rose even more sharply over the last four months of 2017 to reach 886.

“We are in the midst of a drug gang epidemic,” said Erich Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America. “And one of the most marketable commodities to steal is guns. They can be bartered for cash or drugs.”

Much of the increase has been seen in thefts of firearms from vehicles, often in parking lots or on the street outside of venues or events where guns are more likely to be left in cars.

Some of Kansas City’s worst spots for gun thefts included the KCI Expo Center during gun shows, and in the parking lot for Chiefs games at Arrowhead Stadium and in cars outside of nightclubs and concerts that don’t allow customers to bring guns inside.

The Bureau of Alcohol and Firearms tracks the number of firearms thefts from licensed gun dealers, and those totals nationwide have risen 61 percent since 2015.

The national totals for thefts from individuals are harder to track, depending on police department crime reports to the FBI, but the Center for American Progress’ analysis of FBI reports estimates some 1.2 million guns were stolen between 2012 and 2015.

Kansas City police have increased security efforts at area gun shows, said spokesman Capt. Lionel Colón. Officers have met with people hosting events to help them improve their security efforts.

They have joined with groups like Moms Demand Action in spreading the word for gun owners to secure or lock their weapons against theft or the accidental use by children.