Gun stores common target for looters, thieves who work amid protests

For nearly two weeks, Melissa Denny has been sleeping a mere few hours each night in the parking lot of her small, rural Pistol Annies gun store in Bonney Lake, Wash., a firearm nestled not far from her side.

On May 30, Denny, 52, along with dozens of other firearms store owners in the area, received a sudden call from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) cautioning them to immediately secure their locations. A couple of days later, as riots broke out across the country, Denny said she received an ominous Facebook message declaring that a gun store in her small community had already been hit.

While it wasn’t true, Denny – who is also president of the nonprofit Washington State Firearms Coalition – interpreted it as a “call-to-action” and noted that at least five other stores in the greater area have been robbed.

“I’ve been sleeping out here since we got that first call, and lots of supporters – many combat veterans – have driven out here to help as they didn’t want me here alone,” Denny said. “Some nights there are 70 of us here, it has been tremendous. But I don’t know how long this can go on for, I am trying to figure out how I can sustain this level of security. This store is everything I have, and I have seen nothing like this.”

Melissa Denny, 52, said that gun store owners received warnings from the ATF in late May.

Melissa Denny, 52, said that gun store owners received warnings from the ATF in late May. (Melissa Denny screenshot)

She also noted that while they often have drones flying overhead at night – unclear from who – and the occasional car that drives by and “harasses,” so far Pistol Annies is one of the lucky ones as scores of stores across the nation have been looted and decimated in recent weeks.

Riots in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in the custody of a Minneapolis police officer now charged with murder came on the heels of months of lockdown and massive economic downturn. Licensed gun stores across the country were not spared in either case.

“Rioters (were) moving through a neighborhood come across a gun store and loot it as they did the other shops and opportunists are using the riots as cover to steal guns,” Tom Kubiniec, CEO of the New York-based SecureIt Tactical, noted.

Melissa Denny, owner of Pistol Annies gun store in Bonney Lake, WA said she received "tremendous" support from her community in safeguarding her store over the past 12 days.

Melissa Denny, owner of Pistol Annies gun store in Bonney Lake, WA said she received "tremendous" support from her community in safeguarding her store over the past 12 days. (Melissa Denny)

'IT WAS A WAR ZONE': SMALL-BUSINESS OWNERS WHO LOST EVERYTHING IN RIOTS SPEAK OUT

Kubiniec stressed that while most gun stores are quite secure, using steel bars, cages, multiple locks, and good electronic security systems, “all these security measures are designed to buy time for local law enforcement to arrive and deal with the criminals.”

“The goal of most security is to deter crime,” he continued. “But when it is known that there will be no police response, these security measures will only slow you down.”

And the rash of riots has illuminated that the system can fall apart.

In Albuquerque earlier this month, looters broke into JCT Firearms in the early hours of the morning and stole some 115 pistols and 35 rifles of “various models and calibers,” prompting the ATF and National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) to offer a $10,000 joint reward for information pertaining to the crime.

ATF marked it as the most significant theft from a southwestern U.S. licensed firearms retailer so far this year.

“That's a tremendous amount of firepower in the hands of criminals," Tom Mangas, a spokesman for the ATF, stated. “This is a priority for us.”

In North Carolina, police are probing multiple break-ins, including the June 2 break-in at Kernsville’s Idol’s Gun Rack.

“As some of you may already know, our shop Kernersville, NC off of 66 was hit last night. We have already started making changes to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” the store posted on its Facebook page, in a seemingly removed post. “Crazy times we are facing, and this is just another reason why your Second Amendment right is so important!”

Voluneeters guarding Pistol Annies gun store in Bonney Lake, WA

Voluneeters guarding Pistol Annies gun store in Bonney Lake, WA (Melissa Denny)

And in the state capital of Raleigh, thieves broke into the Personal Defense and Handgun Safety Center. While they were caught on camera – surveillance footage showed three men clad in black as they jumped through a window and smashed above the door - they were not successful in stealing any guns.

Federal officials are also investigating a June 1 heist of Whitley Power Equipment in Monroe, in which suspects appear to have sliced through fencing to enter the building a steal “numerous firearms.”

Texas has also been a target amid the mayhem this month. Some 32 guns were stolen from the Pflugerville gun range last week, and just a few minutes later, a seemingly different set of individuals tried to enter a popular south Austin gun shop, Central Texas Gun Works, although they came up empty.

Lubbock Police and the ATF field offices in Texas are investigating a chain of other burglaries in the area, all of which happened within a nine-day period spanning late May and into June.

The first burglary happened on May 31 at LSG Tactical Arms, according to local police reports, followed a few days later by one at Sharp Shooters. The report indicated that two suspects “grabbed as many firearms as they could,” but dropped one as they were leaving. On June 6, a 17-year-old was arrested on a warrant connected to this case.

Other stores targeted over the ensuing days have included Patriot Firearms and Fred’s Gun Emporium, in which multiple suspects are believed to be in be involved in each, although it is unclear if the string of robberies were connected.

In Philadelphia, the owner of Firing Line Inc. shot and killed an alleged armed intruder this month soon after a group of four men cut the lock and kicked in the door. In a subsequent news conference, Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw noted that while they respect the rights of business owners to protect their property, they were disturbed to hear that the owner had opened fire.

In Alabama this month, at least a dozen thieves broke into Pleasant Grove Gun Supply, and in just 15 seconds seized 29 firearms, law enforcement officials said. At least five weapons have since been recovered. That same week, numerous other firearms suppliers were also set upon – including Birmingham Pistol Parlor in Tarrant, a group ripped off the front door and gained entry. It wasn’t immediately clear how many guns were stolen.

Early Monday, 24 vehicles entered the parking lot of Academy Sports in Trussville. The group used a baseball bat to try to shatter the glass door, but it didn’t break. They then fired gunshots which caused the glass to shatter and roughly eight people entered the store and went to the gun counter. They were not able to access any guns and fled empty-handed, said Trussville Det. Ben Short.

According to Alabama.com, authorities “don’t believe the thefts are linked to recent protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but said they believe the thieves are taking advantage of the fact that police are spread thin right now to hit the stores.”

WHERE DO CRIMINALS REALLY GET THEIR GUNS?

Mississippi has also been zeroed-in on by thieves, with police in New Albany seeking three suspects who broke into 2A Armaments last week and left in a Tennessee-plated vehicle along with 23 weapons law enforcement officers believe will be sold on the black market.

Police in Kentucky have also alerted that a group has been targeting pawnshops and gun stores amid the mayhem, and in one case, a male/female duo in their twenties were arrested last week attempting to enter River City Firearms. In Delaware, five individuals stole 35 firearms and accessories including magazines, from American Sportsman near Stanton on May 31, and a $5,000 reward is being offered for further information. Finally, in the explosion of looting that took place in Santa Monica two weeks ago, 29 guns were pilfered from the beachside city’s Big 5 sports store.

“This appeared to be a planned attack as they arrived with proper tools, broke in quickly, took the guns and left quickly,” Kubiniec said of the Santa Monica sting. “Surveillance video shows them fleeing in what looks like a late model BMW 5 series. They were well-funded, organized and knew exactly what they wanted. This is most likely drug-related and these guns will be used in drug-related crimes.”

Destruction to the Santa Monica Music Center after Sunday's riots

Destruction to the Santa Monica Music Center after Sunday's riots (Lana Negrete)

An ATF spokesperson told Fox News that their Special Response Teams are currently assisting local, state, and federal law enforcement partners in “both protecting the public and property.”

“Enforcement Programs and Services has issued FFL Alerts to our industry partners to encourage their taking extra precautions during this time to protect both their inventory and records.  In addition, we are aggressively investigating the theft of firearms that have occurred across the country,” the spokesperson said. “Our Crime Gun Intelligence Centers are collecting valuable intelligence and sharing this information in a joint environment.”

The coronavirus lockdown and riots have also sent legitimate firearms sales soaring. While June data is not yet available, gun sales in May were up 80.2 percent compared to the same time last year, as per data released late Monday by Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting, which examines the raw data obtained from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.

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“Recent gun store break-ins may be a crime of opportunity for criminals that know law enforcement resources are stretched thin due to protests, riots, or looting. This is why many gun dealers have resorted to posting armed guards around the clock,” added Philip Watson, legislative advocate for the Firearms Policy Coalition. "The rash of gun store robberies and other high-profile crimes show that criminals will not respect the law."