GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A rash of recent smash-and-grabs at metro Grand Rapids gun stores mean there are dozens of new illegal guns on the streets of West Michigan.
The federal government is hoping an offer of cold hard cash will help keep these guns out of the hands of criminals.
The break-ins at local gun shops resulted in 33 guns being taken and so far, only five have been recovered. That means 28 guns are out there, making their way into the hands of those who could pose a threat to the rest of us.
“It’s not enthusiasts or collectors that are breaking into gun stores and stealing firearms,” said Thomas Chittum, special agent in charge of the Grand Rapids field office for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “These are destined for the black market and will be used in violent crimes.”
On Sept. 16, 13 handguns were taken from the Grandville Cabela’s. Five were later recovered. On Sept. 24, another 20 guns were taken from the Barracks 616 gun store in Cascade Township. Kent County prosecutors say a total of eight people — six of whom are juveniles — have been arrested in connection to the thefts. Investigators believe others are still at large, but more arrests are expected soon.
But it’s the guns that have authorities worried.
“In this case, we have reason to believe that there may still be some firearms local, some of them may have left the area,” Chittum said. “Guns that are stolen begin changing hands quickly, they can spread, that’s why we try to take an aggressive approach to recovery.”
Gun dealer thefts have become more common across the country. The ATF says the number of such burglaries has increased by more that 48 percent in recent years, from 377 in 2012 to 558 in 2016. The number of guns stolen in those break-ins grew by about 73 percent to nearly 7,500 guns taken in 2016 compared to 4,300 in 2012.
“What we do know is that they have increased. It’s a nationwide problem,” Chittum said. “Our concern is we want to get these guns off the street before they are used to harm somebody in this community or another community.”
Grand Rapids police have also seen an increase in illegal gun reports.
“This time last year, we had a total of 17 CCW (carrying a concealed weapon) reports. This year, we’re at 32,” Lt. Terry Dixon, the spokesperson for the Grand Rapids Police Department, said. “They’re being used for multiple things. Some of them are being used in shootings, some of them are being used for breaking and entering, robberies, things like that. No good, is what I would call it: They are being used for no good.”
He said most of these guns end up in the hands of young people.
“Last couple weekends, we’ve arrested juveniles in possession of stolen guns — you’re talking 13-, 14-,15-, 16-year-olds,” Dixon said. “Whenever you have young people, juveniles carrying weapons, that’s just a recipe for disaster.”
The ATF is working with GRPD, Grandville police and the Kent County Sheriff’s Department. Authorities remind people not to try to confiscate the weapons themselves, but instead to call police or ATF.
The feds are hoping money will bring someone forward. The ATF is issuing a $2,500 reward for information leading to the recovery of the firearms stolen from Cabela’s and Barracks 616. That reward will be matched by the National Shooting Sports Foundation for a total of $5,000.
Anyone who might know where the firearms are or about any other burglaries of gun stores can call 1.800.ATF.GUNS (283.4867). They can remain anonymous if they wish. You can also provide a tip by calling the Kent County Sheriff’s Department at 616.632.6125 or by visiting www.reportit.com.