HUNTSVILLE, Ala - In 2019, investigators say stolen guns were used in five of the six shootings of officers who died in the line of duty.
According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, Alabama ranks among the top states for firearm theft and losses.
Alabama, California, Georgia, Florida and Texas are the top 5 states in the country when it comes to the number of thefts and losses of firearms in the US in 2016, which is the most recent data released by ATF.
Alabama ranks number four on that list. If you tally the number of firearms in Alabama's theft and loss reports it's 1,182. There are 282 guns in the "burglary firearm count" category and 842 in the "loss firearm count." Alabama's loss firearm count is about twice as high as other states in the top five.
Georgia had the highest number of theft/losses with a total of 1,539 guns. 1,069 were in the burglary firearm count category, while only 395 were in the loss firearm count.
"Once they are taken, they are used in secondary crime," said Lt. Michael Johnson with the Huntsville Police Department. "Of course, the hierarchy of crimes, number one would be the murder of a law enforcement officer, but robberies that we deal with, business robberies, or robberies of individuals the weapons when we recover those type crimes usually came from some type of burglary."
Who do thieves target? Sometimes it's gun stores.
"We've had thefts as many as 100 guns from one gun store in Alabama. We have an average -- and this is my own average I came up with -- my own stats of about 20 a year," said the ATF's David Hyche. Hyche is an assistant special agent in charge for the national field division covering Alabama.
But what seems to be one of the most common forms of theft is the most preventable. Many guns are stolen from an unlocked car, and Hyche says criminals also can profile vehicles to target.
"They tell us 'Hey this is what we look for, we look for trucks, we look for bumper stickers that say insured by Glock or Smith and Wesson or whatever,' because typically they're going to find handguns in those vehicles," Hyche said.
Law enforcement officers have a message.
"Please don't let your guns become crime guns," Hyche said.
And one of the easiest ways to prevent that? Keep in mind, that your gun could become somebody else's weapon.
Huntsville Firearm Thefts
The Huntsville Police Department has more current statistics than the ATF when it comes to firearm thefts.
Johnson says the number of firearm thefts went down 10 percent from 2018 to 2019. He says on average, there were about 500 firearms recovered and/or stolen in 2018 and 2019. The word "recovered and/or stolen" is important to note.
"What I mean by that is whether a gun was stolen out of a burglary in a home, breaking and entering of a vehicle, or other means, a business," Johnson said. "We would have to go back and kind of read all the narratives of each firearm taken, so not all of those 490-plus firearms that were taken this prior year were, you know necessarily out of a crime. They could have been just a gun that's been recovered and according to the serial number not reported stolen yet."