JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - At least 13 percent of stolen or lost guns across the United States came from Florida and Georgia over the last two years.
That 13 percent equals 69,230 guns reported stolen or lost in 2016 and 2017, according to the National Crime Information Center.
“One firearm being stolen is a problem because it is most likely going into the hands of prohibited people,” said Tim Gunning, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) supervisory special agent.
Included in the 13 percent is 2,156 guns reported lost or stolen from federally-licensed gun dealers, according to ATF.
And despite the reduction in gun store burglaries over recent years, ATF says it is still a problem.
“The longer time goes on between the theft and apprehension, it is less likely that we will recover firearms because they change hands so quickly,” Gunning said.
Earlier this year, federal and state agents put accused members of a major gun theft ring behind bars in central Florida. According to ATF, a gun used in a Florida nightclub killing was traced back to that group. According to federal agents, the theft ring was accused of stealing 156 guns from five stores; about 35 have been recovered. (Two additional guns were recovered in Dallas and New York City.)
That means 121 guns-from just those break-ins are still on the loose.
“These guys were very bold,” ATF agent Lou Detitto said. “They were in and out in two to three minutes.”
“It’s like trying to put your hand in a fire and thinking you won’t get burned,eventually it is going to happen,” Ziadeh Farhat said. His family owns Green Acres Sporting Goods, a federally-licensed gun store on Jacksonville’s westside.
“In 48 years, we have had two attempts,” Farhat said. “It’s just like any other business, but we go above and beyond because of what we sell.”
In 2017, Green Acres was the target of an attempted burglary during business hours.
According to court documents, Bruquanna Giffin pleaded guilty to stealing firearms and conspiring to steal firearms from federally-licensed firearms dealers. Griffin and another individual attempted to steal guns from three Jacksonville gun stores, including Green Acres. Griffin’s partner attempted to distract the sales staff while she would sneak behind the counter to steal guns.
On August 23, 2017, Griffin was arrested after she attempted to leave Green Acres gun store with two stolen pistols in her purse, according to Farhat. Eventually, she admitted her involvement in the conspiracy, explaining that after she stole the firearms, her partner would either keep, sell, or trade the guns for drugs, according to a release from the United States Attorney’s Office.
“I don’t know how they didn’t think they would get caught,” Farhat said.
A high-risk and potentially even higher reward.
“They steal 50 guns for instance and get $300 per gun, they are looking at $15,000,” Detitto said.
Gun stores in Florida and Georgia are responsible for their own merchandise, the same as a department or grocery store.
Despite being federally-regulated, ATF says they cannot tell a store they must secure their merchandise, only provide recommendations and safety tips.
“One of the tools we use to regulate the firearms industry is the Gun Control Act of 1968 however; we are limited by laws and regulations established by the Congress,” an ATF spokesperson wrote in an email to First Coast News.
Currently, nine states (Alabama, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia) require gun dealers to have security measures to reduce the risk of theft from their stores to different extents, according to the Gifford’s Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Among the measure includes locking up all guns after hours to no public outdoor advertising. Florida and Georgia have no requirements.
For comparison, unlike guns, prescription drugs do have federal safety requirements including
proper storage and providing an alarm where necessary.
According to the United States Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration’s Diversion Control Division, “A practitioner's overall security controls will be evaluated to determine if they meet the intent of the law and regulations to prevent theft or diversion.”
In addition to regulations, the federal punishment for stealing prescription drugs from a pharmacy is a maximum of 20 years. For burglarizing a gun store, a maximum of ten years in federal prison. (Federal gun punishments vary based upon a suspect’s criminal history and if a firearm is used in the commission of a crime. In cases like the gun theft ring in Orlando, federal law enforcement can refer the state to press charges because the suspects would face harsher punishments. According to an ATF spokesperson, ATF pursues the most appropriate Federal or State court venue for prosecution of suspects.)
According to a First Coast News investigation, ATF says some gun store owners simply lose track of their inventory…but lost or stolen…just another piece of the problem.
To fight that problem, ATF says there are some tips to make sure you are not dealing with a stolen gun.
According to ATF, if you plan to purchase a gun, get the serial number and use the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s free search engine. If you plan to sell a gun, authorities recommend meeting in a safe place and getting a copy of the buyer’s driver’s license.
And why some of this might be surprising, the reason behind it shouldn’t surprise anyone. “It is 100 percent profit,” Detitto said.
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