Gun thefts in Wake, Durham counties rose in 2012

Officials: Stolen guns often end up on the black market

dquizon@newsobserver.comDecember 30, 2012 

CLARIFICATION made at 11:00 a.m. Monday, Dec. 31, 2012: Sheriff Steve Bizzell was quoted as saying felons have to buy guns off the street to "legally possess" them. That is incorrect - felons cannot legally possess firearms.

Russell Strickland, who lives just outside Fayetteville, said he has lived around guns his entire life. But he only began locking his guns in a safe two years ago, after an intruder broke into his son’s house and stole six firearms.

One of them was later used in a shooting in Hopewell, Va. Thankfully, Strickland said, no one was hit.

“I’m glad no one was shot with it,” said Strickland, shopping Friday at Springhill Outfitters in Selma. “I think my son would’ve felt partly responsible.”

The latest statistics from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives show 25,000 guns were reported stolen nationwide in 2010. During a typical year, about 23 percent of guns reported stolen are recovered.

Thieves plunder hundreds of guns a year in the Triangle, particularly in the unincorporated areas where people enjoy hunting. Sheriff’s offices in Durham and Wake counties reported a year-over-year increase in gun larcenies in 2012, though the numbers have varied sharply in past years.

Deputy Paul Sherwin of the Durham County Sheriff’s Office said gun thefts have fluctuated sharply in the past three years. The number of firearms reported stolen fell from 130 in 2010 to 70 in 2011. This year, it’s back up to 142.

Sherwin said he doesn’t know why the number of thefts spiked in 2012, but he believes it could increase again as gun sales rise.

“If more people are owning more guns, it’s not unreasonable to think more will be stolen during property crimes,” he said.

Wake County showed a similar pattern – 217 guns were reported stolen in 2012, up from 176 in 2011. But that’s still below the 325 larcenies reported in 2010, a five-year high.

Johnston County does not specifically track gun larceny, but Sheriff Steve Bizzell said it’s common.

“There’s a market for stolen weapons,” Bizzell said. “That’s because felons can’t go in and legally buy a gun, so they have to buy it off the street to legally possess it.”

The number of requests for gun permits has skyrocketed in Johnston County this year, increasing by more than 2,000 in a trend that’s also being seen nationally.

Last Friday alone, the office issued 292 permits, a one-day record, which Bizzell called “astronomical.”

Safes, common sense

So what can all of these new gun owners do to secure their weapons?

The most important advice authorities have is to keep weapons locked in a safe. Brandon Scott, who manages Springhill Outfitters in Selma, said that will stop about “99 percent” of thieves.

“Your regular drug addict is going to want to get in and out,” he said. “There’s some ways to get into them, but time is of the essence” during a break-in.

A safe also keeps children from getting their hands on guns, which Bizzell said is a bigger problem.

Many gun owners may see the safe as a hindrance – it makes it hard to access the gun during an emergency – but there are a couple of ways around this problem.

Sherwin said he stores weapons in a biometric safe, which reads the owner’s fingerprints.

“It works fast; that’s what they’re there for,” Sherwin said. “We’re only talking a matter of seconds, assuming I get a good” reading.

Bizzell and Scott suggested keeping home defense weapons locked and unloaded – with ammunition stored separately from the weapon – during the day. If people want quick access to a loaded weapon, they can keep one close to them at night.

Sherwin said people should know their weapons’ serial numbers and be able to give investigators some basic information on the firearms.

“We receive reports of stolen firearms, and the owners don’t know the serial numbers and some don’t even know the make and model,” he said. “Without a serial number, we may not ever find it.”

People should never leave guns in plain view in their vehicles, Scott said.

If possible, they should take the weapons with them or lock them in the trunk, he said.

“Don’t forget you put it there,” he said. “If you don’t have a concealed carry permit, you need to keep it in sight.”

Most importantly, authorities ask that people use common sense in protecting their weapons from theft.

Sherwin said that’s one of the responsibilities that comes with owning a firearm.

“The owner has the responsibility to make sure those firearms are not falling into the wrong hands,” he said.

Quizon: 919-836-5768

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service