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Imperium Watch: Guns in the Wrong Hands

Legions of weapons find their way from factories and dealers to the street.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2013

There’s a simple fact about guns that helps to explain why so many unqualified people—people with criminal histories, mental health problems, anger problems, drinking problems—get them in spite of the laws governing licensing and registration.

It’s that so many guns are stolen. And not just one or two at a time from people’s homes or cars, though that kind of theft counts, too. Guns are also stolen from stores and factories, and if you begin tallying the incidents, the numbers—of thefts, and of firearms stolen—are striking.

Among the places where Nancy Lanza, the mother of the Newtown school shooter and a gun collector herself, shopped for her guns was Riverview Sales, a gun store in East Windsor, Conn. Riverview has had so much trouble securing its inventory from theft that according to press reports, it’s recently been the subject of an investigation by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (On Jan. 2 the Advocate called the store and was told that owner David LaGuerica was “not taking calls from the media”). In June, 2011 a man described by his family as having mental health problems, stole 12 guns from Riverview. In 2007, Riverview reported 33 guns missing; police found 28 in the home of one of the store’s customers.

That’s 45 guns stolen from only one store in five years. But why knock off a store when you can steal from the factory? Early in November, 111 guns were stolen from Smith and Wesson in Springfield. Police believe the guns were taken to Bridgeport, Conn., and an unknown number sold before police apprehended the suspects.

Twenty-eight of the weapons were recovered; that still leaves a lot on the street. And here’s an important point: it’s only in a relatively low percentage of cases that the person who steals a gun uses that same gun to commit a crime. But when guns are stolen and sold in numbers, enough of them fall into the hands of criminals to make gun theft a matter of concern.

Also in November, 62 guns were stolen from Tom’s Guns and Ammo in Sodus, New York.

In September, 20 handguns were stolen during a break-in at a sporting goods store, Gold Star Outdoors, near Edmore Mich.

In August, 100 guns or more were stolen from The Pawn Shop in Muscle Shoals, Ala. (Factoid: Around half the gun retailers in the U.S. with actual storefronts are pawn shops.) Also in August, 62 firearms were stolen from GT Distributors, a gun store in East Dallas. Twenty-eight of those guns were recovered.

In April, almost 50 rifles and shotguns were stolen from a hunting store in Clarksdale, Miss.

In January, burglars with a sledgehammer broke into Maxon Shooters Supplies & Indoor Range in Des Plaines, Ill., shattered glass cases and stole more than 200 handguns.

This is only a short list of the past year’s gun thefts. In all, some 15,000 guns a year are stolen from retailers, including pawn shops. The number of other places from which guns are stolen by observant, resourceful thieves is legion; gun shops, factories and collectors’ homes are only the beginning. Guns are stolen from luggage checked at airports, from cars, from hunters’ vehicles, from gun shows, even from police training facilities.

In Houston alone, 32,000 guns (including privately owned guns) have been reported stolen in the past five year, and only 7 percent were recovered. Nationwide, about 1.4 million firearms were reported stolen during household burglaries and other property crimes over the six-year period from 2005 through 2010, and that figure only includes the thefts that were reported.

The point underscored by such information is that the very number of guns manufactured and distributed to points of sale in the U.S. contributes to the amount of gun violence in the country. One reason is that there are no regulations, or at least no national, standardized regulations, governing the security of guns stored in shops.

And though federal licensees such as manufacturers, retailers, importers and repairers must report stolen guns within 48 hours, the BATFE only “recommends,” it does not require, that firearms lost or stolen while being shipped be reported.

The amount of gun theft casts grave doubt on the black and white, heroes vs. villains view promulgated by gun rights enthusiasts, who speak as though the registration system designed to separate law-abiding from criminal owners of weapons is water-tight—as though the visibility and availability of guns creates no danger as long as the guns don’t fall into the “wrong hands.”

In fact, the system is not water-tight; it leaks constantly and copiously. The availability of large numbers of guns makes it inevitable that many will fall into the wrong hands, especially absent requirements for secure storage.•

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