ATF: Little Consequence For Stores That Lose Hundreds Of Guns To Theft

An ATF task force has tracked down two of the thieves special agents believe are connected to one of the burglaries at Spring Guns and Ammo that happened last month.

In that heist, thieves got away with dozens of guns. It was the third time that the company's stores were hit this year.

But questions remain about why the store keeps being hit and why more can't be done to ensure guns don't fall into the wrong hands. ABC13 went into Texas prisons to ask murderers where they get guns. Nearly two-thirds of them said they used a stolen gun they either bought on the street or stole themselves.

None of the guns stolen from Spring Guns and Ammo have been linked to any crimes, though only nine have been recovered.

Back in Spring, the store boasts of having a 24-hour armed guard and visible security cameras, but on June 22 at 3:56 a.m., the cameras weren't enough to deter those thieves. The video shows the burglars taking handguns inside a cabinet and long guns off a wall.

"One thing we've learned is that when gun stores lock up their inventory at night, they're not going to lose guns," said ATF Special Agent Nicole Strong.

But the ATF can't force gun dealers to change behavior

"We don't have that authority," Strong said.

In Texas, private gun owners can be sent to prison if a dangerously stored weapon is used in a crime, but federal law simply doesn't give the Bureau Of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms the right to mandate safe storage for gun dealers who keep hundreds of firearms on hand.

"We do go in after the fact of a burglary or robbery and help them conduct their inventory and begin the investigation," Strong said. "But we have no regulatory authority to mandate securing their inventory."

In addition to the June 22 burglary, Spring Guns and Ammo was also burglarized on April 24.

The company's North Freeway store was burglarized in January of this year and again in November 2016.

Four burglaries. One-hundred and sixty-one guns in all. Just nine have been recovered by law enforcement.

In the last two years, the number of guns stolen from federally licensed dealers in Houston is up 45 percent. Stopping them is the bureau's number one investigative priority.

"The ripple effect of a stolen gun being used in a crime goes on for years," Strong said.

We called Spring Guns and Ammo numerous times, emailed three times and stopped by the store all hoping to ask about the burglaries. ATF says the store is cooperating with the investigation.

We've yet to hear back from anyone connected with the store.

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