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News 13 Investigates: 986 guns reported stolen from 13 WNC counties in 2016

In the US, according to the ATF, a gun is stolen every two minutes. North Carolina ranks fifth in the nation for stolen firearms. (Photo Credit: WLOS Staff)

According to the ATF, a gun is stolen every two minutes in the United States. And North Carolina ranks fifth in the nation for stolen firearms.

A News 13 investigation found people don't like to talk about their stolen firearms on camera, but their stories are alarming. One man said he was left with 17 staples in his head after home intruders beat him, demanding guns and money. Another said he bought his own gun back from a drug dealer after finding it on social media. And then there’s Jeff Taylor.

“These things are heavy,” Taylor said as he and Colin Wood moved headboards inside Lucky Finds in Henderson County.

Taylor and Wood were taking inventory when they were attacked.

“It was like a fight or flight moment. You don't really know what to do,” Taylor said.

Both were temporarily blinded with bug spray.

“It's like a thousand bees on your face,” Taylor said.

“I would just get flashes” as thieves smashed registers, he said.

“He got me pretty good. That's where we were struggling,” Taylor said, pointing out his bruises.

During one flash, Taylor’s heart sank.

“I just wish I could recover that bag,” Taylor said.

Inside it was a .45 caliber his brother gave him.

“That's the last thing I wanted, that gun out there on the street,” Taylor said.

“They get passed around. They can be used for all kinds of things,” Detective Jake Staggs said.

What’s the incentive to steal firearms?

Guns are marketable, even in the mountains.

“They can trade them for drugs, they can sell them to somebody else and the problem is many guns are left readily accessible to thieves,” Henderson County Sheriff Charles McDonald said.

So accessible, in 2017, 872 guns were reported stolen from 13 western counties, 986 in 2016.

The numbers are likely higher since North Carolina doesn't require stolen firearms be reported.

“If it's your weapon, you're responsible for it wherever it ends up,”McDonald said.

Vehicle burglaries drive the epidemic. Buncombe County incident reports show that over three months, more than 64 percent of stolen guns were taken from vehicles. The glove box is an obvious first look.

“Past the center console, yes, that is the first place,” Asheville Police Lt. Joe Silberman said.

Henderson County’s Street Crimes Unit along with APD are constantly on the lookout, running serial numbers when officers come across firearms.

“When an officer has the ability to legally possess a firearm, and I don't say confiscate or seize, but legally have that gun in his hand, it is a general practice to run the serial number,” Silberman said.

Where do they end up?

Stolen guns can pose a risk to community safety and often head straight into the illegal underground market.

ATF data reveals hundreds are recovered in neighboring states, but guns stolen from the Tar Heel State have been recovered in California, Michigan and New York.

“Nine times out of 10, when we locate stolen weapons, we weren't necessarily looking for that stolen weapon,” McDonald said.

Fewer are turning up at pawn shops since state law requires owners to report every item they buy. Leicester Pawn & Gun Shop puts serial numbers on Leads Online. Guns aren’t immediately resold.

“Usually, within seven days we'll hear if it's stolen, if it has a hit,” Leicester Pawn & Gun Shop owner Russell Whitmire said.

But the regulations aren't the same for everyone.

“If you're just a gun shop, you know you can buy and trade guns, but there's no reporting requirement,” Whitmire said.

Some stolen firearms simply stay on the streets or are sold online on sites, including local classified paper IWANNA.

“They're easy to trade to fences for drugs or money or to trade around for other things,” Silberman said of guns.

According to sheriffs, the opioid crisis has a hand in increased thefts, as well as other illegal activity. A two-month crack investigation revealed a stolen firearm in January on Cambry Street. Several stolen AK-47s turned up in Hillcrest after a breaking and entering.

Why aren’t stolen guns found?

Owners with a serial number can have law enforcement enter it into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center.

"The frame of the pistol is here, and the serial number is here. On a Glock, the serial number is printed on the barrel, and on what's called the slide," said Silberman.

Too often, detectives can’t follow up. In Macon County, for 64 percent of the firearms stolen over the last four years, the owners didn’t know the serial numbers. That includes Taylor.

“It was a gift to me from him, so, then again, I should have checked a little more thoroughly into that,” Taylor said.

“If it doesn't have serial numbers, we try and match up common things or establish patterns of use,” Silberman said.

“We encourage people to record serial numbers of anything of value in their house, take pictures, as well, and put that in a safe place,” McDonald said.

It’s simple.

“If the weapon's out of your possession, it needs to be locked up in some form or fashion,” McDonald said.

Most gun shops sell cases that lock. They cost an average of $20-$30 and typically come with a cable that can be attached to the vehicle, making it still accessible if you need it in a rush. It could just keep you from wondering where your firearm might end up.

Taylor has learned the importance of locking up firearms.

“Please if you see that black bag anywhere, get it to authorities,” Taylor said.

It’s been a valuable lesson for Taylor, who worries the thieves might have dumped the weapon in the woods where kids could find it or traded it on the street.

“As adults, we need to pay a little more attention to what we do with our firearms,” said Taylor.

Henderson County was the only department that also traced recovered firearms. The percentage however was low. On average, 16 percent are recovered.

Here’s a breakdown of the numbers, county by county, for those who answered News 13's open records request:

Asheville

  • 2014 – 110 stolen
  • 2015 – 132 stolen
  • 2016 – 116 stolen
  • 2017 – 119 stolen

Buncombe County

  • 2014 – 81 stolen
  • 2015 – 96 stolen
  • 2016 – 80 stolen
  • 2017 – 101 stolen

Cherokee County

  • 2014 – 81 stolen
  • 2015 – 70 stolen
  • 2016 -- 207 stolen
  • 2017 – 44 stolen

Clay County

  • 2014 – 6 stolen
  • 2015 – 1 stolen
  • 2016 -- 8 stolen
  • 2017 -- 9 stolen

Haywood County

  • 2014 – 175 stolen
  • 2015 – 106 stolen
  • 2016 -- 111 stolen
  • 2017 – 140 stolen

Henderson County

  • 2014 – 169 stolen
  • 2015 – 128 stolen
  • 2016 -- 131 stolen
  • 2017 – 173 stolen

Hendersonville Police

  • 2014 – 3 stolen
  • 2015 – 6 stolen
  • 2016 -- 16 stolen
  • 2017 -- 18 stolen

Jackson County

Responded telling News 13 our records management system collect data about stolen items to include firearms, however the same data code also included ammunition which would drastically skew the number of actual firearms, and there was no way to break down the numbers.

Madison County

  • 2014 – 19 stolen
  • 2015 – 26 stolen
  • 2016 -- 22 stolen
  • 2017 -- 14 stolen

McDowell County

  • 2014 – 80 stolen
  • 2015 – 58 stolen
  • 2016 -- 78 stolen
  • 2017 -- 73 stolen

Mitchell County

  • 2014 – NA
  • 2015 – 16 stolen
  • 2016 -- 14 stolen
  • 2017 -- 8 stolen

Rutherford County

  • 2014 – 69 stolen
  • 2015 – 79 stolen
  • 2016 -- 84 stolen
  • 2017 -- 66 stolen

Transylvania County

Responded telling News 13 they couldn’t find a way to compute the statistical data that showed how many firearms were stolen in a year.

Yancey County

  • 2014 – 14 stolen
  • 2015 – 11 stolen
  • 2016 -- 10 stolen
  • 2017 -- 8 stolen

If you have a story you want the I-team to investigate email us at Iteam@wlos.com

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