Creatas/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — In the early morning hours on Tuesday, up to fifteen people broke into a Tampa, Florida gun store, smashing through the glass storefront with an SUV and making off with around 40 weapons, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s department.
This brazen burglary is part of a disturbing trend.
ABC has learned that more than 500 thefts are anticipated by year’s end, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
This years’s projection comes after gun store burglaries spiked 28 percent from 2013 to 2015.
More than 12,000 weapons, including handguns, shotguns and assault rifles were stolen in burglaries during that time.
The Charlotte, North Carolina region has been the hardest hit this year.
Just in October, ATF and the firearms industry has offered rewards for information in at least five Charlotte-area burglaries or robberies.
The Atlanta, Georgia area is the second worst region for gun store burglaries, according to ATF.
But this is happening all over the country.
Criminals have been using any means necessary to get their hands on valuable firearms, breaking through walls, ceilings and even using blow torches to get the guns.
A masked thief smashed through the glass door of GTX Guns in Georgetown, Texas early in the morning of May 9. In just seven seconds he was off with an armful of guns.
This past April in Hampton, Virginia, crooks used a stolen car to crash through the front door of Treasure Chest Pawn and Gun. Several guns were gone in less than 45 seconds.
In early March, a dramatic smash-and-grab robbery played out in Houston, where as many as 10 suspects used chains to rip the metal bars off the front of Carter’s Country gun store.
More than 50 guns were stolen in less than two minutes.
There are no federal laws governing security measures for federally licensed gun dealers. It’s up to individual gun store owners to protect their merchandise. ATF makes recommendations to the industry and to the gun dealers about steps that can take to secure their facilities secure their stock of weapons.
ABC spoke with Virginia gun dealer Kevin Penrose, whose American Family Pawn was burglarized last year.
The thieves came through a window and were gone in 30 seconds. They had made off with 30 firearms.
“I now have shatter-proof glass. I have bars on every single window. I have sensors,” he said. “I have a light alarm, so if the police are driving by, not only if they can’t hear the sirens from the outside, they’re going to see this strobing flashing light, so it’s more notification.”
Burglarizing or theft of firearms from a federally licensed gun store is a felony and can result in a 10 year prison sentence, but that hasn’t stopped the brazen crimes.
Authorities warn that these these heists lead directly to violence on the streets.
“There’s a reason why those guns aren’t purchased legally, because the individuals using them most likely can’t go out and purchase those guns themselves,” said Scott Fulkerson, ATF Resident Agent-in-Charge of the Richmond Field Office..
Once firearms are stolen form gun stores they enter the black market and can end up in the hands of criminals far away, according to the ATF. In some cases there are advance request for stolen these stolen weapons.
The Rooster Bait and Tackle gun store, in Rapid City, SD, was burglarized last April. Just weeks later, three of the guns turned up in crimes 400 miles away near Denver, Colorado.
Two of those guns were allegedly found with 37-year-old murder suspect Jose Ocampo in Lakewood, Colorado after a standoff with police. Ocampo is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the shooting of a man in a motel parking lot. He is due in court on June 17.
“We have a short period of time to recover those weapons before they’re used to harm citizens, harm families, our friends our colleagues.” said Fulkerson. “We’re trying to prevent those guns from being used in crimes.”
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