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ATF: Stolen guns recovered in Columbia up from five years ago

By Jillian Fertig, Reporter, jillian.fertig@kmiz.com
Published On: Sep 05 2013 09:26:01 PM CDT
Updated On: Sep 06 2013 07:57:21 AM CDT
Guns

Gregg Canes/CNN

COLUMBIA, Mo. -

Columbia has seen a summer full of gun violence.

There have been 11 shootings since June, two of them fatal.

To make matters worse, illegal guns are turning up on Columbia streets and in the hands of criminals.

ABC 17 News dug through reports for statistics and talked with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Reports show that in 2012, there were 4,662 firearms reported stolen or missing in Missouri.

Three hundred of those reported have not been found, but 54 that were found, were found in Columbia. That breaks down to one illegal firearm per 2,000 people.

Missouri currently does not have a law requiring citizens to report a lost or stolen firearm to law enforcement, so there could be even more out on the streets.

Overall, Missouri's number of recovered firearms is not at the highest, as it was in 2010.

But recovery of firearms in Columbia is up since 2008.

"Used to be, maybe we'd get a couple traces a month," said Jim Hill, manager of Target Masters gun shop said. "Sometimes we get two a day."

Hill said over the last five years, the frequency of calls from the federal government trying to track stolen guns that have turned up at crime scenes has increased exponentially.

Local law enforcement said they have the same story.

"It seems as though more criminals are in possession of firearms than they were 20 to 25 years ago," said Detective Tom O'Sullivan with the Boone County Sheriff's Department.

So what has changed? Local law enforcement said guns are one of the top items taken in burglaries.

ATF Special Agent Trista Frederick told ABC 17 News theft is not the only way criminals get their hands on guns.

"Things like gun shows, theft, straw purchases or private sales--those are the identified ways people who are prohibited from obtaining firearms tend to obtain them," Frederick said.

Those straw purchases are illegal.

"It means people are buying guns for felons because they can't," Hill told ABC 17 News. "Or if people are selling guns and not paying attention to who they're selling to outside the system."

But O'Sullivan said it's hard to charge the rightful owner who gave the gun to a felon used in a crime.

"I can't even recall where we've had a case where we've caught somebody with a gun-- we may have known where he got it, but as far as being able to charge the rightful owner, I don't ever recall that happening," he said.

O'Sullivan said straw purchases are hard to monitor. He also told ABC 17 News more often than not, firearms used in crimes are never found.

But in the rare cases they are, it can be almost impossible to completely trace the gun back to the original owner.

"You're thankful that you recovered a stolen firearm, that you took an illegal firearm off the street, but it's virtually impossible to try and trace it backwards," O'Sullivan said. "A lot of times, these guns change hands several times."

The problem doesn't always start when it comes to tracing guns found at crime scenes.

Frederick said responsibility of private, gun-owning citizens can play a role.

"A lot of people don't know their serial numbers," she said. "They don't have them written down, and if your firearm is stolen and you don't have the number, if it's recovered later, there's no way to know because there's no way to trace it back."

Whether the serial number is known or not, some people just don't tell the police.

"There's certain times where people choose not to report a gun stolen, so there's no way to truly quantify that particular issue," Frederick said.

Frederick said there is no way to completely stop the theft and sale of illegal guns. But she said the biggest way to combat the problem is to educate gun owners on keeping track of their serial numbers and properly storing firearms in a safe.

Frederick encourages all gun owners to fill out a personal firearms record and store the information in a safe place separate from where the guns are stored.

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