Thieves recently made off with 20 semiautomatic rifles from Warhorse Firearms of the Rockies in Littleton, the latest in a series of “smash-and-grab” burglaries at area gun stores in recent months.
Three or four suspects broke a large window and climbed a staircase into the store, located on the second floor above Grand Prix Motorsports at 3105 W. County Line Road a little after 2 a.m. July 26, according to the Littleton Police Department. Investigators are looking for a dark two-door Honda with a black spoiler on the back.
The rash of burglaries, which has included stores in Arapahoe, Douglas and Jefferson counties, is part of a larger trend of gun thefts from dealers statewide, authorities say. More than 270 guns were stolen in 2016, up from 121 in 2015 and 56 in 2014, according to information provided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The trend also is reflected nationwide, with 9,281 guns stolen from dealers across the country in 2016, up from 6,163 in 2015.
The Denver-area burglaries are the No. 1 priority of investigators at the Denver field office of the ATF, said spokeswoman Lisa Meiman, adding that while it's too early to say if the burglaries are a pattern or committed by the same group of people, there's clearly thought behind them.
“These are not impulse crimes,” Meiman said. “We're seeing an uptick pattern that's very concerning. Anywhere there's a sizable urban area with a lot of gun stores, you're seeing this upward trend in gun thefts.”
Links to other crimes?
An Aurora man, Eric Perez, 20, pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm after his blood was found at the scene of a burglary at Colorado Gun Broker in south Jefferson County last year. Two of the stolen guns were found in his bedroom, and he was sentenced to six years in prison.
Law enforcementagenciesin Coloradohave recovered 70 guns stolen from dealers since the beginning of 2017, Meiman said. One was recovered after a teenage boy allegedly shot another teenager with it in Edgewater in July.
“We've seen a few turn up in crimes,” Meiman said. “Stolen guns are often bartered or traded for drugs, given to criminal friends and associates. Some are sold, but the vast majority are never seen again.”
Besides the ATF, numerous agencies are working in close contact on the cases, said Littleton Police Department Division Chief Kim Ferber.
“County sheriffs, city police, gun dealers — this is big for all of us,” Ferber said. “We're looking at forensics, monitoring social media — we're working this a lot of different ways.”
Ferber said there were burglaries at a gas station on Broadway and another store on Littleton Boulevard almost at the same time as the Warhorse burglary, though investigators aren't sure if they're related. Littleton police tried to stop a red Ford pickup in one of the burglaries, but it got away. The truck, listed as stolen from Aurora, had the license plate 764-ITS.
Gun dealers can help prevent thefts with robust security practices, Meiman said .
“We tell our gun stores: the truly determined thieves are difficult to stop,” Meiman said. “But if you can slow them down, prevent them from getting in easy, prevent them from being able to obtain guns easily within the store, that makes all the difference. Criminals only have a couple minutes before they have to run out.”
Warhorse Firearms managerTony Zajicek would not comment on the recent burglary at his shop or on the store's security.
The ATF, which licenses gun dealers, issues best practices guidelines for gun dealers but has no security requirements.
The recommendations include securing all firearms after business hours, investing in motion-detecting camera systems and reinforcing all windows and frames.
“They're all recommendations,” Meiman said. “Insurance might have other thoughts.”