Stolen guns take years to recover

Victims of firearm thefts might wait as long as a decade before being reunited with their guns.

According to a report by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, more than 190,000 thefts werereported nationwide in 2012, and many happened close to home.

Georgia ranked second in the nation with 12,602 firearms reported stolen in 2012, the report said. No. 1-ranked Texas had 18,435 reported thefts in 2012.

Locally, there have been 160 reports of firearms stolen in Richmond County in 2013. The Richmond County Sher­iff’s Office has seen 35 reports in June alone, Investigator Keith McGarity said.

In Columbia County, there have been 24 cases of stolen firearms for 2013. Capt. Steve Morris said that number remains fairly consistent year after year.

“I wouldn’t say there has been an increase in thefts,” he said. “That number is typical. However, many of these firearms are being stolen from vehicles that aren’t secured.”

Of the 35 gun thefts in Richmond County in June, 19 have been from an automobile. Sheriff’s Lt. Calvin Chew said the vehicle thefts happen most often when a firearm is in plain sight.

“I would hope that the person would keep it locked up in the glove box or in the trunk,” he said. “It’s something that you have to take very serious when you own a weapon.”

Morris said the Columbia Coun­ty Sheriff’s Office tells residents to find other places to store their weapons.

“Unfortunately, many of these cases would not occur had the owner not left the gun in a car,” Morris said. “It’s not advisable at all to leave firearms in the vehicle.”

In Georgia, the average time it takes for a stolen firearm to find its way back to the owner is more than 10 years, according to the ATF Web site. Chew said luck has a lot to do with getting back a stolen gun.

“There are times when stolen guns show up at the scene of a crime,” he said. “Sometimes an officer will pull someone over and find a stolen weapon in their possession. Sometimes we’ll get a call from a pawn shop.”

Many pawn shops have a direct link to the sheriff’s office through the new ReportIt program. United Loans and Firearms manager Ray Rey­nolds said the list is updated daily. Local law enforcement compares its list of reported stolen firearms against the list to check for matches.

When the serial numbers match, the sheriff’s office claims the firearm.

“Every firearm that comes in is reported to the online service,” Reynolds said. “There’s no way to tell if it is stolen until the sheriff’s office contacts us.”

Chew said the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office checks on pawn shops every day. The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office will check several times a month, Morris said.

Recovered firearms, as with any other recovered property, are processed before they are turned over to owners. If a firearm goes unclaimed, it is discarded, Chew said.

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