More to the tale about missing firearms

Published 6:43 pm Sunday, June 30, 2013

Austin police reported 20 missing firearms in 2012. — Matt Peterson/

Austin police reported 20 missing firearms in 2012. — Matt Peterson/

Dozens of crimes involving guns end in convictions every year in Mower County, but when it comes to firearm thefts, that’s rarely the result. It’s a troubling kind of crime that can be better prevented.

In 2012, the Austin Police Department reported 20 stolen guns from seven different cases, and the Mower County Sheriff’s Office reported four stolen guns from one case. That’s just a fraction of the state’s 1,353 missing guns in 2012, of which 1,303 were stolen and 50 were lost, according to the National Crime Information Center.

Ask around the Mower County Attorney’s Office, and prosecutors don’t recall too many convictions from the area, either.

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“The weapons cases we deal with on a regular basis — the stolen ones, not so much,” said Mower County Attorney Kristen Nelsen.

Because of that, she knows there is a better solution, and a simple one: being more responsible.

“Any stolen weapons case is one too many because people should be securing them in the right way, so they can’t be stolen,” Nelsen said.

In Mower County, stolen guns have run the gamut, from pistols and petty firearms to shotguns and rifles, according to Police Chief Brian Krueger. Among those, many cases involve thieves who know the homeowners or know through other sources about someone who owns guns and where he or she stores them.

According to Austin Police Capt. Dave McKichan, that’s likely the reason for many local firearms thefts. Given enough time and persistence, thieves will get to what they want.

That was the case in April 2012 in Austin, when two men and several teens knew a homeowner was going to be gone. They broke into the northwest Austin home and stole several guns and weapons.

“If given enough time and motivation, they will probably get to them, but you want to make it as hard as possible for them,” McKichan.

Unlike the many unsolved firearms thefts, that case ended in convictions. That case also shows where firearms thefts happen, there are often multiple guns involved.

“Gun owners often keep their guns together,” McKichan said. “When we do have a gun theft, we’re just as likely to see five or 10 guns all at once as we are to see one or two.”

So how do responsible firearms owners protect their guns? People who haven’t had problems know several answers to that. They don’t advertise to others that they have firearms, especially where they store them. They buy quality gun safes and store them in secluded areas.

Gun owners can take safety a few steps further, as well. Knowing the serial number to every weapon is one way. Storing those numbers in a separate location is another. McKichan has heard of cases in which owners stored written serial numbers with their weapons. Those went missing, along with the weapons. On the other hand, of all types of theft cases, those involving firearms and owners who know their serial numbers are more likely to end with property being returned, McKichan said.

Another safety measure involves ammo. Firearm safety instructors urge homeowners to lock their ammunition in separate safes from their weapons. If a thief finds one, he may not find the other.

Many gun owners know firearms offer safe, enjoyable recreation, and they can be easy to use. But because guns can seem so commonplace in some homes, responsibility is often overlooked. Simply owning a gun comes with that constant requirement.

“As a gun owner, you do have a responsibility,” McKichan said.