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[Angela Major/The Janesville Gazette via AP]

Gun Theft

Gun Store Robbed By the Wisconsin Manhunt Suspect Had Been Burglarized Before

The disclosure comes as the ATF is revealing new details on a big jump in firearms thefts that has law enforcement leaders alarmed.

A Wisconsin gun store burglarized last week by Joseph Jakubowski, an anti-government extremist who is now the target of a massive manhunt, had been robbed before, local police confirmed.

The Rock County Sheriff’s Department told The Trace that Armageddon Supplies in Janesville, the hometown of House Speaker Paul Ryan, was burglarized less than a year ago, on August 27, 2016. 

Scott Kuhl, Armageddon’s owner, confirmed the prior burglary when reached by phone. He said that he had upgraded his store’s security after the initial robbery by installing surveillance equipment and reinforcing the exterior, though he did not provide specifics. When asked whether he had taken measures to secure the firearms in the event of a successful break-in, like placing weapons in a vault after closing the store or locking each gun up in its display case, Kuhl hung up the phone.

Last Tuesday, Jakubowski stole more than a dozen firearms from the same location. According to a criminal complaint, police responded to Armageddon after being notified by an “intruder alarm.” Surveillance video of the break-in shows Jakubowski using a hammer to break store’s front door window. After failing to unlock the door, he jumped through its window, landing inside the store. The video then recorded Jakubowski “scooping up handfuls of handguns” from a display case, before fleeing.

Police said they do not believe the two incidents are related.

Wisconsin is one of 41 states that do not require gun stores to secure their inventory with gun safes or locks; surveillance systems or alarms; bars on the windows; or barriers to prevent cars smashing through the front door.

Kuhl said that he could not recall exactly how many guns were stolen in the 2016 burglary, though he said he thought it was fewer than 10. According to the Rock County sheriff, a suspect in the case was arrested in that earlier incident, and Kuhl said he believed all those weapons were recovered.

Before he robbed Armageddon, Jakubowski mailed a 160-page manifesto to President Donald Trump threatening to attack public officials and schools, and detailing “personal angst against anything other than natural law or rule.” Rock County Sheriff Robert Spoden said Tuesday that he expects “some kind of endgame” with the 32-year-old suspect, who has a history of violent confrontations with police.

Jakubowski’s sister told investigators that he had drafted a latter apologizing to the gun store owner. The document said he wanted to buy the guns legally but, as a felon, could not. In the letter, the complaint stated Jakubowski “apologized to the owner for the theft, and thanked the owner for protecting the 2nd Amendment rights of citizens.”

More than 150 state and federal law enforcement officers are involved in the hunt for Jakubowski. Police said they would provide Speaker Ryan and his family with extra security.

The manhunt comes as law enforcement ramps up efforts to combat gun store burglaries, which have soared throughout the country since 2013. On Tuesday, officials of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Forearms and Explosives met with reporters at the bureau’s headquarters to announce that 18,394 guns had been lost or stolen from federally licensed dealers in 2016, or more than 50 a day. The new figures mark a 24 percent increase over the year before and the first time since at least 2012 that thefts rivaled losses as the primary reason weapons went missing from dealers.

The tally includes 7,488 guns that were taken during burglaries, 1,423 in larcenies — police parlance for shoplifting — and 370 in robberies, brazen cases where the thief wielded a weapon or threatened violence to make off with firearms.

Kevin O’Keefe, the ATF’s chief of operational intelligence, said that most burglaries happened at independently owned stores, which tend to be dispersed and located in more remote areas, than big-box stores like Wal-Mart or Cabela’s.

Another 9,113 guns were reported lost. Lost weapons are either reported by the dealers themselves or flagged during ATF inspections of the sellers’ books.

The tally of lost firearms can fluctuate depending on how many visits the bureau pays to dealers in a given year. The ATF sets a goal of inspecting every licensed dealer at least once every three to five years, but it has struggled to meet its own benchmark because staffing levels have not kept pace with the increase in dealers. In 2015, the ATF inspected 6.3 percent of the nearly 140,000 licensed dealers that year, the lowest percentage since 2005.

The ATF declined to comment on whether the store Jakubowski burglarized had any of the security measures in place that the bureau’s industry operations investigators recommend as best practices. An image on the store’s Facebook page shows an exterior with no barriers in place. Photos of the interior show ammunition and firearms, from rifles to semiautomatic pistols, stored unlocked hanging on racks or within glass display cases. However, those images date from 2012 and 2014.

The surge in thefts led the ATF to begin calling dealers when burglaries occurred in their areas and warning them to take precautions. Andrew Graham, the deputy assistant director who oversees the ATF’s regulatory enforcement, said the bureau had conducted “numerous” calls since the program launched Feb. 6 and was following up with dealers to see whether they adopted the bureau’s security recommendations. The ATF also hands out pamphlets and speaks to dealer gatherings about trends in thefts.

“It is an agency priority,” Graham said. “We try to educate the licensee with every opportunity we have.”

Most of the burglaries have happened in the South, where gun ownership rates are higher and gun stores more ubiquitous. Last year was indicative: More than half — 62 percent — of the 7,488 guns stolen in burglaries were taken in the South. The states with highest totals were Georgia, with 1,069 guns stolen in burglaries; Texas, with 639; and Florida, with 572. The Northeast, by contrast, reported 262 guns stolen in burglaries across the entire region.

O’Keefe said most of the burglaries were smash-and-grab jobs that were over within a few minutes.

“They are good about getting in there quick,” he said.

Law enforcement agencies that recover guns during criminal investigations — such as shooting and homicides — will often submit those weapons to the ATF for a trace so they can find out who originally sold the gun. ATF data indicates that in 2015, the bureau traced at least 1,642 guns back to losses or thefts from a licensed dealer.