The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) announced on Thursday it is partnering with the gun industry and local activists to offer tens of thousands of dollars for information on gun store burglaries.
The ATF told the Washington Free Beacon that six gun stores were burglarized during Hurricane Harvey, with four reporting guns missing from their store. There were a total of 109 guns the agency considers missing and likely stolen. Cash America Pawn had 84 guns stolen, two Academy Sports and Outdoors locations had a total of 14 guns stolen, and 1911 Enterprises had 11 guns stolen, according to the ATF.
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Though Hurricane Harvey affected more than 650 federally licensed gun dealers, the ATF said there were fewer burglaries than during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, in which more than 1,000 guns were stolen in 30 separate burglaries.
"We find it reprehensible that anyone would take advantage of a hurricane that is affecting thousands of lives by stealing firearms from a business," Fred Milanowski, special agent in charge at the Houston Field Division, said in a statement. "ATF is working tirelessly to find and hold the persons responsible for this crime accountable."
To that end, the ATF, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), and Crime Stoppers of Houston have offered $11,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the Cash America Pawn burglary. The agency said two men entered the pawn store on Aug. 27 while it was closed due to the hurricane. A number of people could be seen looting the store during the storm, but the two suspects in question managed to gain access to the store's safe room and stole 84 guns, including handguns, rifles, and shotguns.
The agency released pictures of the suspects in hopes that the public might be able to identify them.
— ATF HQ (@ATFHQ) September 6, 2017
The ATF and its partners also offered $11,000 for information on the burglary of Academy Sports and Outdoors. The agency also released security camera photos of the Academy Sports and Outdoors suspect.
— ATF HQ (@ATFHQ) September 6, 2017
The NSSF said it is working to support the ATF's efforts to bring the burglars to justice but also noted the limited scope of the break-ins.
"NSSF has long supported ATF in helping to solve FFL [federal firearms license] thefts through our matching rewards program," Michael Bazinet, an NSSF spokesman, told the Free Beacon. "We do not generally comment on specific theft cases, but we can note that there were relatively few in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey considering how many were in the path of that record-breaking event."
The ATF said its efforts to communicate best practices to gun dealers, as well as its cooperation with local law enforcement were key to keeping gun burglaries to a minimum.
"We took a pro-active approach which we believe kept the losses low (comparatively, Katrina lost over 1,000 guns and had 30 burglaries)," Nicole Strong, senior special agent in the Houston office, told the Free Beacon. "We send out an FFL alert call to every FFL before and during the storm reminding them to follow best practices and secure their inventory; we provided HPD with a list of all the FFLs and they had directed patrols surveil and monitor the FFLs during the storm; immediately following the storm we again called each of the over 650 FFLs in the affected areas to ensure they were okay and no additional losses had occurred; and we brought in our Special Response Team to conduct directed patrols to monitor for looting and provide a quick response should it be necessary."
The agency is now working on implementing the same precautions with Florida gun dealers in preparation for Hurricane Irma.
The ATF is urging anybody with information on any of the break-ins to call Crime Stoppers of Houston at 1-800-392-STOP or submit information through the mobile reportit app that is available on both iOS and Android. Anyone providing a tip can do so anonymously.