In the spring of 2013, in advance of opening day at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, city Police Chief Sam Dotson issued a statement telling fans to leave their guns at home.

“Don’t even bring your gun down and leave it locked in your car,” he warned. “Unfortunately, there is a portion of the segment of the population that looks for people who leave their concealed carry in the car and then, in the second or third inning when people are enjoying the game, they go and break the window in the car and perhaps steal the gun.”

Two years later, the problem has only worsened, engulfing St. Louis County. In May, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that in the first four months of 2015, almost 200 guns had been stolen from residents in the county — a 65 percent increase from the same period last year. Dotson reemphasized that the firearms were pilfered from parked cars more than anywhere else. “Criminals have figured this out,” he said.

This issue isn’t unique to St. Louis. On June 10, two local news outlets (one in Benton, Arkansas, and the other in Escambia County, Florida) reported that gun thefts were up in their respective areas.

In Benton, 29 guns had been taken from cars in the previous 18 months. A police officer in the area noted that half of the cars were unlocked and that “a number of those others were unable to be determined and could have possibly been unlocked.” Meanwhile, in Escambia County, a gun has been stolen every day, on average, since the start of 2015. A third of those firearms were taken from cars. According to the news source, “in almost all of those instances” the vehicles had been left unlocked.

In April, in Cleveland, Tennessee, the local police department said it was struggling with a similar problem: Over a two-month period, burglars had broken into 13 automobiles and stolen a total of 16 guns. In Pinellas County, Florida, a firearm that was taken from an unlocked Honda Accord in August 2014 was used to kill a police officer four months later.

“We have seen an increase in guns being taken from unlocked vehicles,” Cpl. Spencer Gross, of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, tells The Trace. “People leave them in their consoles, their glove boxes, or underneath their seats. It’s a crime of opportunity.”

[Photo: Flickr user Chris Goldberg]