On December 8, 2008, thieves broke through a rooftop window and stole 17 semi-automatic handguns from the Scheels store at Coral Ridge Mall, Iowa.
Many of the guns, valued at $11,400, have since been recovered — from the hands of criminals.
One gun was used to rob a Nashville bank in 2009.
Police reports indicate that at least six more guns have been recovered in Chicago. One was dumped in a garbage can as a man fled from police. Another ditched in a flower pot. A third was used to rob three men of their cash, cell phones and clothes.
One suspect told police he purchased the stolen gun in the parking lot of a Dolton, Illinois, night club. Though the gun sold in the stores for $600, the suspect told police he paid between $700 and $800 for the gun.
According to a 2001 DOJ survey, Firearm Use by Offenders, 39% of all felons get their guns from “family or friends.” Another 39% get them, as in this case, “off the street.” And the vast majority of all of those weapons are stolen or trafficked from private sales and gun shows.
The ATF agrees, reporting that number one source of guns used by criminals are those stolen and then resold. Too many owners keep them in closets and in bedside tables, often “secured” only by a thin pane of window glass or a cheap door lock.
As in the Palo, Iowa case.
Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner is working with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to investigate the January 30 theft of about 70 rifles and shotguns stolen from a Palo home.
“Anytime a weapon is stolen and put out into the community, it’s a danger for all of us,” said Gardner.
Investigators found one of the stolen guns in a March 8 search of another Palo house and charged five people with a host of charges, including possession of a firearm as a felon.
In this case the weapon didn’t stray far from the scene. Coralville, however, demonstrates just how far stolen weapons can travel, moving across state lines to Illinois and even as far as Tennessee.
In another example, Chicago police have claimed to have traced the origins of more than half of the guns seized in the city since 2001. The weapons came from all 50 states and from more than 60% of the nation’s counties.
Trafficking is a huge business, and the vast majority of guns taken off criminals come from just 1.2% of “bad” dealers, from private sales, from unlicensed sellers at gun shows, as well as those stolen from dealers and from the public.
Last week a Senate committee advanced an element of President Barack Obama’s broad gun control initiative, approving a measure aimed at combating gun trafficking and straw purchasing in a bipartisan vote.
One Republican, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, joined the committee’s 10 Democrats to approve the bill in a 11-7 vote, sending the legislation to the full Senate for consideration.
“We know that many guns used in criminal activities are acquired through straw purchases,” said Senator Patrick Leahy, D-VT., the committee chairman and author of the bill. “We need a meaningful solution to these serious problems.
The legislation would make it a crime to sell a gun to a person who intends to pass it on to someone who couldn’t pass a federal background check, and it would make gun trafficking a felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison.
But despite it’s bi-partisan support, the bill’s passage is anything but assured.
The Coralville thieves have since been caught. Charles Curry of North Liberty and Mohamed Elkamil of Coralville were charged with stealing the guns from Scheels after police found yet another of the firearms, a Kimber SIS Custom, .45-caliber pistol, in Curry’s car during a February 16, 2009, traffic stop.
And so far, 12 of the 17 guns stolen from Scheels have found their way back to Coralville. Coralville Lt. Shane Kron said that it’s common practice for agencies that recover stolen guns to return them to victims once the weapons are no longer needed as evidence.
The whereabouts of the other five guns are unknown.