WAFF 48 Investigates: Tracking stolen guns - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

WAFF 48 Investigates: Tracking stolen guns

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A stolen gun can travel very far in a short amount of time. (Source: MGN Composite) A stolen gun can travel very far in a short amount of time. (Source: MGN Composite)
MADISON COUNTY, AL (WAFF) -

Alabama hit a top-ten list it is not proud of: states with the most stolen firearms. It is a problem that creates a black market for trafficking weapons.

Surveillance video caught a smash-and-grab at a pawn shop in Rogersville. The crooks stole 13 guns, including two assault rifles. It didn't take long for those same guns to hit another target.

"Within two days, they robbed the First Metro Bank in Greenhill," reported Chief Terry Holden of the Rogersville Police Department.

In Muscle Shoals, burglars cut the power to a pawn shop so no camera caught them taking a total of 58 firearms. The ATF tracked some of those guns to the hands of gang members all the way in Detroit, Michigan.

Chief Holden said the crooks don't always need a major heist to do damage. "A lot of guns stolen out of residences here are traded for drugs, and shipped up north."

Alabama is a hub for trafficked guns that most times end up in Northeastern states with more stringent gun laws. "…and many of those guns end up in criminal hands," said Holden.

ATF Special Agent Jeffery Fulton said there are no federal or state laws requiring gun owners to report a lost or stolen weapon. The ATF ranks Alabama 10th nationwide, with more than 6-thousand guns reported, mostly stolen. Only 95 were reported lost. However, that's only what was reported. Fulton said the number could actually be a lot higher.

When asked if there was one thing gun owners weren't doing, Fulton advised, "Write down the serial number, and take a photograph of that firearm and keep it separate from the gun."

There's no state law requiring owners to keep their weapons secure or to keep a record of private party sales. Without those serial numbers, authorities said it can stop a case cold, and could be the key to whether you're considered a suspect or cleared of a crime.

"If law enforcement came to ask me, ‘why did your gun end up at a homicide scene?' Well, I sold that to this individual, here's a copy of my bill of sale, and here's a copy of his driver's license. That would give us the next trail to go to," Agent Fulton explained.

"Even if we were losing them at the rate of some smaller state, we have more because we've got more," said Russell Durling of Last Resort Guns. "The ones that are stolen, of course they are going to show up in crimes, but then we are back to the real requirement for people to secure their weapons, look after their purchases, secure their serial numbers."

Having more firearms comes with more responsibility. Every customer who walks into Last Resort Guns in Madison walks out knowing that.

"If someone wants to come into my house and steal anything from me, I'll know what they've got. The cops will know what to look for," said gun owner Richard Travers.

The turnaround to the gun showing up in a crime doesn't take long. In one year's time, the ATF found 156 guns showed up in crimes in less than three months of being stolen. More than 18-hundred were traced back to being stolen up to three or more years ago.

"That gun may have changed hands maybe four or five times, so it doesn't allow us to get back to the original criminal," explained Agent Fulton. "He's carrying it while he's dealing his drugs, he's carrying it while he's doing armed robberies or burglaries, he is using that as a crime gun. Once that gun is taken out of the lawful trial, it's very difficult if not impossible to put that trail back together."

Agents said crooks use their relatives, girlfriends, and even college students with clean records to walk in and buy guns. Some even buy just to resell them on the black market. ATF agents can trace those purchases back and prosecute.

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