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Unlocked and loaded: Thefts of unsecured firearms prompt police warning

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Eighty-one firearms were stolen from vehicles in Greenville in 13 months.

030917firearms Lt. David Bowen
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Beth Velliquette

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Imagine putting your gun or rifle in a metal box with no lock on it and leaving it out by the curb.

Seems like kind of a dumb idea. Anyone — a thief, a drug addict, a teenager or a child — could come along, open the box and take it.

That’s apparently what many people are doing when they leave guns, rifles and shotguns in their unlocked cars, and Greenville police want them to lock up their firearms.

Between Jan. 1, 2016, and Feb. 19, 2017, within the Greenville city limits, 81 firearms were stolen from vehicles, and 74 of those were stolen from unlocked vehicles. That means 91 percent of the time, all a thief had to do was open a car door, reach in and take the gun or rifle.

There were 903 motor vehicle break-ins during that same time period, which shows how many people are out there looking for those types of opportunities. That’s about 65 to 70 vehicle break-ins per month, and police are asking residents to stop making it so easy for thieves to steal their belongings, especially firearms.

A stolen firearm usually just creates more crimes. It could be used in a crime or traded for cash or drugs.

A stolen gun was used in one of the most notorious murder cases in Pitt County’s recent history when Antwan Anthony shot and killed three young men who were working at the the Hustle Mart-3 convenience store near Farmville store in 2012. The Smith & Wesson 9mm handgun he used to kill them had been stolen from a residence on Grovemont Drive. It wasn’t left in a vehicle, but it had been left in a holster hanging off a bedpost of a locked residence. Someone pried open the door while the owner was out of town, walked in and stole it.

“A weapon you have may be used for ill will,” said Lt. David Bowen of the Greenville Police Department.

As more and more people seem to be buying guns, it’s imperative that they take responsibility for them and keep them where they won’t be easily stolen, Bowen said. That means not leaving a firearm in an unlocked vehicle.

Thieves often go out at night and try every door handle of every car or truck they see. They’ll walk through the parking lot of an apartment complex or a shopping center, checking door handles. If the door is locked and they don’t see anything valuable inside, they’ll just move on to the next vehicle and try that door handle.

If the door opens, they’ll go in and rifle around to see if the owner left anything valuable inside. It might be a laptop computer, a camera, an iPhone or a handgun, and all the thief has to do is take it and disappear into the night.

So the first rule is, Bowen said, is to lock your vehicle.

A person might put a firearm in their locked trunk, out of sight and in a locked container, but if the car door is left unlocked, all a thief has to do to gain access is pop the trunk from inside the vehicle, so always keep the car doors locked, too.

Don’t leave firearms in vehicles overnight because even if the firearm is in a locked vehicle, the only thing that separates it from the thief is a pane of glass. And whatever you do, don’t leave anything, whether it’s a purse or a gun or a laptop, visible inside the vehicle.

Violent crime has gone down in Greenville, Bowen said, but property crime always is going to be an issue, so take care to protect your property.

Police want to make people aware that owning a firearm is a responsibility and, if a person is going to possess one and own one, the firearm needs to be kept somewhere where it can’t easily be stolen, Bowen said.

The more obstacles that a thief has to overcome, the less likely the firearm will be stolen. Keep a small firearm in a locked glove compartment or consider installing a small safe in a vehicle, and don’t leave it in the vehicle overnight, he said.

Contact Beth Velliquette at bvelliquette@reflector.com or at 252-329-9566.

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