'Black market' for guns makes Georgia first in nation for firearm dealer burglaries
MACON, Ga. -- According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Georgia led the nation last year in gun burglaries from licensed dealers.
Fifty-eight licensed firearm dealers were burglarized and 1,069 guns in total were stolen in 2016.
That's up from 35 burglaries in 2015.
Compared to the rest of the nation, Georgia leads the way in gun thefts.
U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia Pete Peterman said he's aware of the high number of burglaries and the Department of Justice is working on it.
"There is sort of a black market that exists out there and that's what the thefts are feeding," Peterman said.
Burglars attempted to enter Eagle Gun Range in Macon on March 29, but were deterred by the alarm system.
"Three idiots decided to come and woke me up at three 3:30 in the morning, banging on the front door and trying to get in," Dowling said. "Of course the alarm goes off and they go running off but I still had to come out here."
Peterman said that in past years, if someone committed a crime while carrying a firearm, a judge tacked on extra sentence time.
"We actually had people that were arrested and they would state that they did not carry a firearm because they had learned that if you carry a weapon you got five extra years in the federal penitentiary," Peterman said.
However, that mandate ended about four years ago because the number of crimes with firearms decreased and resources were needed elsewhere.
Peterman said he's working with Bibb County Sheriff David Davis and District Attorney David Cooke to implement a similar program this year because of the multiple police shootings last year.
"Back when we had the I think five officers killed in a few weeks time and we were looking at what we can do to try and cut down on this," Peterman said.
Peterman said that while there are thieves are in Middle Georgia, the guns don't stay long. Often times the firearms are taken to other states for gang and drug trafficking use.
Dowling said he locks up each weapon before he closes every night and encourages other dealers to do the same.
"All the gun shops in this area are very aware of all the thefts and all the craziness going on and we hope that they'll all get smart and tighten up the buildings, tighten up the security systems and video systems so that maybe we'll slow these idiots down a little bit," Dowling said.
On April 12 two men were sentenced for stealing semi-automatic rifles from a Macon Bass Pro Shops in 2013. On Oct. 3 of last year, thieves backed an SUV into the door of a Warner Robins gun store and stole several firearms. Then on Oct. 13, two people stole handguns and rifles from a Bolingbroke gun store.
Nationally, almost 8,000 firearms were stolen from licensed gun dealers in 2016 and burglaries increased 48 percent from 2012.