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Guns are being stolen from cars at triple the rate they were 10 years ago, a report finds

WASHINGTON — The rate of guns stolen from cars in the U.S. has tripled over the last decade, making them the largest source of stolen guns in the country, an analysis of FBI data by the gun safety group Everytown found.

The rate of stolen guns from cars climbed nearly every year and spiked during the coronavirus pandemic along with a major surge in weapons purchases in the U.S., according to the report, which analyzes FBI data from 337 cities in 44 states and was provided to the Associated Press.

The stolen weapons have, in some cases, turned up at crime scenes. In July 2021, a gun taken from an unlocked car in Riverside, Florida, was used to kill a 27-year-old Coast Guard member as she tried to stop a car burglary in her neighborhood.

The alarming trend underscores the need for Americans to safely secure their firearms to prevent them from getting into the hands of dangerous people, said Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Director Steve Dettelbach, whose agency has separately found links between stolen guns and violent crimes.

“People don’t go to a mall and steal a firearm from a locked car to go hunting. Those guns are going straight to the street,” said Dettelbach, whose agency was not involved in the report. “They’re going to violent people who can’t pass a background check. They’re going to gangs. They’re going to drug dealers, and they’re going to hurt and kill the people who live in the next town, the next county or the next state.”

Nearly 112,000 guns were reported stolen in 2022, and just over half of those were from cars — most often when they were parked in driveways or outside people’s homes, the Everytown report found. That’s up from about one-quarter of all thefts in 2013, when homes were the leading spot for firearm thefts, the report says.

At least one firearm was stolen from a car every nine minutes on average in 2022, the most recent year for which data was available. That’s almost certainly an undercount, though, since there’s no federal law requiring people to report stolen guns and only one-third of states require a report.

“Every gun stolen from a car increases the chances it’ll be used in a violent crime,” said Sarah Burd-Sharp, senior director of research at Everytown, which advocates for gun control policies. The report found higher theft rates in states with looser gun laws, which also tend to have higher rates of gun ownership.

The report analyzed crime data from the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System, which includes details about what was stolen and where it came from. Guns stolen from cars bucked car theft trends overall — the rate of other things stolen from cars has dropped 11% over the last 10 years, even as the rate of gun thefts from cars grew 200%, Everytown found in its analysis of FBI data.

In Savannah, Georgia, city leaders last month passed an ordinance requiring people to secure firearms left inside cars after seeing more than 200 guns stolen from unlocked cars in a year. The measure is facing pushback from the state’s attorney general.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has separately said that theft is a significant source of guns that end up in the hands of criminals. More than 1 million guns were reported stolen between 2017 and 2021, the agency found in a sweeping report on crime guns released last year. And the vast majority of gun thefts are from individuals.

The agency is prohibited by law from publicly releasing detailed information about where stolen guns end up. The information can, however, be shared with police investigating a crime.

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