ATF leads the charge against stolen gun trend

Special Reports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The numbers are staggering.

Metro police saw a 70-percent jump in guns from stolen cars between 2016 and 2018.

Statewide, the TBI saw an 85-percent increase in guns stolen from cars and trucks between 2016 and 2017.

Nationwide, nearly half a million guns are stolen every year.

All of those stolen guns are the responsibility of one agency, The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the ATF.

Whether its criminals breaking into gun stores or kids breaking into cars stealing guns, the tip of the spear in the war to stop gun theft is the ATF.

“You know Bob, I don’t know if its a war that you ever win.”

An honest answer to a huge problem.

“The United States has firearms… I would not say problem, but there is a wealth of firearms in the United States,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge Marcus Watson.

Agent Watson did not expect Nashville to have a stolen gun problem.

“I was a little surprised by that… so I will say that it is probably statistically a little worse because so there are so many more people moving here,” said Agent Watson.

There is also a huge gun owner responsibility problem. Unsecured weapons left in cars are being stolen at alarming numbers.

From January to August of this year, Metro police reported 465 guns stolen from cars.

“Legal firearms owners cannot leave their firearms in cars,” said Watson.

That’s more than twice the number of guns stolen from cars just a year earlier.

“They are in and out in a short period of time and that gun has gone from legal ownership now it’s out on the street and it’s being used to harm law enforcement or a law-abiding citizen,” said Watson.

In states like Tennessee, fewer gun laws do not necessarily result in more gun crimes.

“Chicago’s got a gun problem but Illinois has very restrictive gun laws  Memphis has got a gun problem but the state of Tennessee does not have very strong firearms laws, it’s a pro-second amendment state so there is no one size fits all,” said Watson.

The Gifford Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence reports 400,000 guns are stolen from individuals each year, one gun is stolen every two minutes, yet less than half report their guns being stolen. \

“You know sometimes it can be shame and embarrassment,” said Watson.

Not reporting stolen guns can lead to more gun crime.

“It goes from the legal market to the grey market to the illegal market and then it’s used again to either perpetrate a crime or it’s used against a law-abiding citizen or that gun is traded for narcotics or some other illicit material.”

Agent Watson sees a disturbing trend in the increase of thefts from gun stores.

“I’ve seen people will take drive cars through the doors, take axes to the doors, they cut holes in the roof people are determined to seek out firearms, there is no foolproof method but everything they can do the better for us.”

 Tennessee has become a source and pipeline for stolen guns.

“We’ve seen juveniles and crews that are specifically targeted to go out steal guns and they traffic them to areas like Chicago or Memphis or other areas where there is high crime and they use that as commerce it becomes a tool of the trade,” said Watson.

Agent Watson believes part of the solution is to partner with schools and educate kids about guns.

“I think prevention is probably one of those things that we should do even more on not just as ATF but as a community we are losing too many kids to the streets  we have to be responsible to the whole village.”

News 2 digs deeper into the disturbing trend of stolen guns, the impact on the area and the effect on crime rates. Watch our special reports “Guns of Nashville” all day Thursday in every newscast. Plus, stay tuned for a half-hour special Sunday, September 22 at 4:30 p.m. Click here for more.

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