Atlanta officials are undergoing extensive security preparations ahead of the College Football Playoff championship on January 8, where President Trump is expected to be among the crowd of 100,000. At a press conference this week, Police Chief Erika Shields took a moment to tie in an attempt to address a public safety risk that local law enforcement has been confronting day in and day out.
“Please, please execute the highest regard and greatest level of common sense,” Shields implored. “We cannot have folks continuing to bring guns and leaving them in their cars.”
The Atlanta Police Department doesn’t want the fans who turn out to cheer on the University of Georgia and University of Alabama to stow firearms in their rides for the same reason law enforcement agencies around the country have been admonishing residents not to treat their sedans, pickups and SUVs as gun safes: A Glock or Remington left in a vehicle often makes for an easy heist.
In 2015, Atlanta tallied about 1,200 reports of stolen guns. About 70 percent of those – 850 – were swiped from cars. Those figures represent a marked increase over previous years. In 2010, the city recorded less than 900 gun thefts, of which only about 45 percent involved a thief breaking into an automobile.
After The Trace first started reporting on the sharp increase in Atlanta-area gun thefts, the city produced a public service announcement urging gun owners to lock up their weapons. Local leaders called for changes to Georgia’s gun laws, which have increasingly made it easier for gun owners to keep firearms in their cars.
Over the last seven years, stolen guns have turned up at more than 450 crime scenes in Atlanta, according to an analysis of data by The Trace and NBC. That tally includes more than 60 homicides, robberies, assaults, and other violent crimes. But even those figures are surely an undercount. Some gun thefts are never reported, and even when they are, the victims often don’t know the serial numbers on their weapons. Without the serial numbers, it is difficult for police to link the guns that they recover in a homicide or an assault back to a theft.
Nationally, Americans have reported more than two million guns stolen over the last decade, according to the National Crime Information Center, a federal database that tracks stolen property. As part of a yearlong investigation, The Trace and more than a dozen NBC TV stations combed through records from more than 1,000 law enforcement agencies and found that collectively they had recovered more than 23,000 stolen firearms between 2010 and 2016. The vast majority of those were recovered in connection to a crime, including more than 1,500 robberies and killings, shootings that injured innocent bystanders, and other violent acts committed in cities from coast to coast.
Parking lots outside stadiums and other major event spaces represent prime hunting ground for gun-hungry thieves, who can weave through cars trying door handles until they find one that’s unlocked.
“I’m sure there are people that specifically target those venues because first of all, it’s what I call a target-rich environment,” Armando Guzman, a police chief from Florida who helped develop a gun-theft prevention program for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said in an interview last fall.
“Second of all, I’m sure there are some folks who say in the back of their minds, ‘Oh, what can I find in there? Maybe a gun.’”