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Criminals steal more than 237,000 guns from legal American gun owners every year

  • Gun theft is on the rise in the US, fueling violent crime across the country.
  • A wide-ranging investigation by The Trace and NBC analyzed 800,000 police records. In 2016, more than 237,000 guns were reported stolen nationwide, a 68% increase from 2005.
  • The problem is exacerbated by legal gun owners who fail to secure their firearms, making it easy for criminals to steal them.

Criminals are stealing guns from legal owners in increasing numbers, fueling violent crime in America.

In 2016, more than 237,000 guns were reported stolen in the US, a more than 68% increase from 2005, an investigation from NBC and The Trace found.

In the last decade alone, 2 million guns were reported stolen, although that number is likely higher because many incidents of gun theft are never even reported. One estimate from the nonpartisan think-tank Center for American Progress puts the number of stolen guns per year at 380,000.

“The impact of gun theft is quite clear,” Frank Occhipinti, an officer with Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told The Trace. “It is devastating our communities.”

In the wake of mass shootings that have become all-too common in the US, gun control advocates typically push for enhanced background checks and tighter legal restrictions on the kinds of weapons citizens can buy — but gun theft from everyday owners is often left out of the discussion.

For more than a year, NBC and The Trace analyzed police records in hundreds of jurisdictions and cities across America in 36 states. All in all, they assessed roughly 800,000 records from more than 1,000 local and state law enforcement agencies.

In two-thirds of the 80 cities analyzed, gun theft rates increased substantially over a five-year period. In St. Louis, for example, 843 firearms were reported stolen in 2015, a 27% increase from 2010.

The Trace points out the irony in the increasing number of gun thefts around the country. While many law-abiding Americans buy guns for self defense, those guns often end up arming the very same criminals they fear.

Gun owners make it easy for criminals to steal

From carjackings to kidnappings, armed robberies to sexual assaults, criminals use stolen guns in a variety of situations.

In one case that The Trace/NBC investigation highlighted, criminals stole four shotguns and two handguns that an Arizona couple left stuffed in their dresser drawers.

When they returned home one day, all the guns were missing. Eight months later, police recovered one of the guns on the floor of a getaway car three robbers used after holding up a gas station and leading police on lengthy chase.

The source of the problem, experts say, is negligence on the part of many gun owners. Criminals are able to rob legal owners of their guns in many cases because their weapons are simply not secured in safes or lock boxes.

“It comes down to basic human responsibility,” Occhipinti, the ATF official, told The Trace. “If a gun owner doesn’t do what he’s supposed to be doing, that obviously makes our job a lot harder.”

See the full investigation here »

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