Burglars stole a record number of firearms from gun stores and other licensed firearms dealers in 2017, according to federal statistics released on Tuesday, extending an upward trend that has spurred calls for new legislation on Capitol Hill.
Burglars nabbed 7,841 guns from licensed firearms dealers last year, about 5 percent more than in 2016, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The number of gun stores that were broken into also rose in 2017, to 577, a jump of about 3 percent over the prior year.
Since 2013, the number of guns stolen has surged 134 percent. The number of gun stores that were burglarized increased more than 70 percent over that same period.
Thieves often see gun dealers as easy targets. They smash through windows and walls in order to grab big stashes of firearms, which have high value on the criminal market.
Law enforcement officials have sounded the alarm about the trend, imploring dealers to take action to make their stores more secure. The ATF, which oversees gun dealers and investigates robberies, sent out a letter to gun dealers in North and South Carolina in 2016 urging them to consider greater security measures and calling the spate of thefts a “significant threat.”
Private owners are also losing their guns more often to theft. More than 237,000 guns were reported stolen in the United States in 2016, according to the National Crime Information Center, a database maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that helps law enforcement track stolen property. That represents a 68 percent increase from 2005.
As The Trace reported after a yearlong investigation, stolen weapons don’t just disappear: many are later recovered at crime scenes, including homicides and rapes.
For now, law enforcement officials in most states can do little more than ask retailers to take extra steps to keep weapons out of the hands of thieves. There are no federal security requirements for gun dealers, which means that in most states they can operate without so much as a lock on the door, should they so choose.
In October, Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, introduced a bill to force licensed dealers to do more to keep the firearms in their stores safe. Durbin’s legislation would require gun dealers to lock up their firearms after hours with an anchored steel rod, or inside a safe, cabinet, or vault. The National Rifle Association has long opposed such requirements as costly and detrimental to businesses, and as of Tuesday, not one Republican had signed up to cosponsor the measure.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, has championed a proposal to increase the amount of prison time that burglars and robbers would serve for stealing from licensed gun dealers. The measure has attracted Democratic support and is favored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry’s trade group.