Hundreds of crimes investigated in Wichita since 2010 have been linked to guns that previously had been reported stolen. Many of the firearms were swiped out of the homes or vehicles of gun owners who would have had no way of knowing that they’d be used for violence later on.
According to Wichita Police Department data provided to The Eagle by The Trace – a nonprofit reporting outlet that focuses on gun news in America – stolen guns turned up in connection with more than 500 criminal offenses committed in Wichita between 2010 and 2016. The count includes homicide investigations and at least 60 robberies, assaults and batteries, the data shows.
Police also found stolen firearms when they looked into at least 80 burglaries and more than 100 drug crimes over the seven-year time span.
Convicted felons in possession of firearms accounted for more than 80 of the offenses, according to the data.
“People don’t steal guns because they’re collectors. ... They have value on the street,” said Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett, whose office prosecutes thousands of crimes – many involving guns – carried out in and around Wichita each year.
“The person who used it (a stolen gun) in a crime very often isn’t the person who stole it,” he said. “They’re passed around and they get used, sometimes more than once, in various types of crimes.”
The number of guns being stolen is increasing in Wichita and across the nation.
In Sedgwick County, Bennett said the guns often turn up in the hands of gangs and during investigations of gang-related activities but rarely are they connected to crimes like domestic violence and abuse.
Sometimes they aren’t found until years after they went missing, he said.
The Trace, during a yearlong investigation with more than a dozen NBC affiliate TV stations, identified more than 23,000 stolen guns nationwide recovered by law enforcement agencies between 2010 and 2016. Most of the recoveries were connected to criminal activity, the investigation found.
The Trace obtained and analyzed more than 800,000 records of stolen and recovered firearms from more than 1,000 law enforcement agencies in 36 states for its investigation — including data from Topeka, Olathe and Wichita police departments. It then matched serial numbers from the guns in the two sets of data to identify to what crimes the recoveries were linked.
More than 5,800 guns have been reported stolen in Wichita since 2010, according to data from the Wichita Police Department.
Of those, 879 went missing between Jan. 1 and Nov. 14 of this year. More than a third were swiped from vehicles, the department said.
Wichita police have expressed concern over gun thefts several times throughout the year already:
▪ In February, a burglar or burglars stole 33 handguns and four long guns, including an AK-47 and two AR-15s, from a north Wichita sporting goods store. Wichita police at the time released the serial numbers and asked the public to check to make sure they weren’t buying any stolen weapons.
▪ Two months later, the department urged residents to stop leaving their guns in their cars because they were being targeted by thieves at rising rates. Between January and the end of April, 78 guns had disappeared from center consoles, seats, glove boxes and other hiding spots in vehicles – putting the city on track to meet or exceed the 193 gun thefts from vehicle break-ins in 2016. In 2015, thieves nabbed 151 guns.
By mid-November, the number of guns stolen from vehicles in Wichita this year had risen to 297, the police department said. Three years ago, Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill that barred cities and counties from enforcing local ordinances regulating firearms including how they’re transported.
▪ In September, police found a stolen handgun, methamphetamine and stolen tools at a home in the 100 block of South Greenwich after a burglary victim noticed his tools advertised for sale in a Facebook post.
“The Wichita Police Department urges all citizens to do their part in securing their firearms to help prevent firearms from potentially being stolen and landing in the wrong hands,” Wichita police Officer Charley Davidson said in an e-mail. “Taking proactive steps in securing firearms will help keep Wichita safe.”
Other local guns thefts that made the news in recent years include when someone stole firearms from a re-enactor who’d portrayed Wyatt Earp at a Cowtown event in 2015 and when three men stole guns from sheriff’s vehicles parked at Sedgwick County’s fleet maintenance compound in 2013.
“Burglars are generally looking for something they can sell or trade quickly,” said Lt. Lin Dehning, spokesman for the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office.
“If your home (or vehicle) is getting burglarized and a gun is there, it’s pretty likely it’s going to be stolen,” he said.
Wichita has seen a more than 64 percent increase in gun theft reports since 2011, data The Eagle obtained from the Wichita Police Department shows.
In its investigation, the Trace found that in the U.S. last year more than 237,000 guns were reported stolen — up 68 percent since 2005.
But that’s likely significantly fewer than the actual number snatched by thieves. Many gun thefts go unreported to police.
“The impact of gun theft is quite clear,” Frank Occhipinti, deputy chief of the firearms operations division for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told The Trace. “It is devastating our communities.”
Authorities suggest following these tips to help prevent gun thefts:
▪ Write down the brands, models and serial numbers of your guns and take photos of your guns so you have that information to give law enforcement if you do fall victim to theft.
▪ If traveling, leave your gun at home or take it with you inside wherever you’re headed. Don’t leave it unattended in a vehicle.
▪ If you have to leave a gun in a vehicle, put it in a secure place like a locked glove box or trunk. Make sure it’s out of sight.
▪ Use trigger locks or cable locks. At home, store your guns in a lock box or gun safe that’s bolted down instead of leaving it in an accessible place, like hanging on a garage wall.
“Whether it’s your jewelry or gun or anything like that that’s easily picked up and you can walk out the door with it … those are the kinds of things thieves are looking for,” Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said.
“Treat your gun like grandma’s wedding ring. Lock it up.”