A Spate of North Texas Gun Store Heists Raises Questions About Safe Storage and Security

Several states have passed laws requiring stricter security and storage measures for gun stores.
Several states have passed laws requiring stricter security and storage measures for gun stores. Photo by Alejo Reinoso on Unsplash
Just past 2 a.m. on Sept. 14, a man wearing a ball cap, glasses and face mask slipped through the back door of Top Dog Gun Range in Krum, around an hour northwest of Dallas, and headed to the display case.

Security camera footage shows the man riffling around in the cases, using a flashlight to guide himself in the dark room and snatching up handguns. When he eventually ran out, he’d made off with 21 firearms.

Along with the Denton County Sheriff’s Department and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) last week announced a $10,000 reward to anyone who could provide information that would lead to the suspect’s arrest.

ATF Dallas Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey C. Boshek II warned that each day the guns go unrecovered, the more likely it is that they’d be used in violent crimes.

“Recovering these firearms quickly before additional crimes are committed remains a top priority for ATF,” he said in a statement. “We are asking the public to please let authorities know if you recognize this individual.”
On Sept. 14, a man stole 21 guns from Top Dog Gun Range in Krum - ATF
On Sept. 14, a man stole 21 guns from Top Dog Gun Range in Krum

Meanwhile, more than 380,000 firearms are stolen from individual gun owners around the country each year, usually taken from their cars or homes. But a recent spate of gun store robberies around the Dallas-Fort Worth area raises questions about how lawmakers should tackle the problem in a state that sees thousands of stores targeted every year.

With many of those weapons ending up in the hands of violent criminals, Rafael Benavides, press secretary of the Texas Democratic Party, said his party supports legislation that would place requirements on gun stores and other dealers when it comes to storage and safety.

Benavides described gun violence as "an epidemic in this country" that often spills over into Mexico when guns from Texas and beyond are smuggled south of the frontier.

"So, there's definitely a great need to have any type of legislation that would increase gun safety," Benavides added. "That doesn't just mean for individuals; it means for licensed gun dealers.

At least eight states have introduced laws that place tougher requirements on gun dealers and gun shops, but Texas isn’t one of them. (Texas does mandate, however, that stores post warnings urging customers to safely store their weapons out of children’s reach.)

More alarming still, the ATF rarely revokes the license of federal firearms licensees, or FFLs, although nearly half were found to not be in compliance with federal regulations in 2019, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Mark Oliva, the director of public affairs at the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), says laws imposing tighter restrictions on gun dealers too often put impossible burdens on “mom-and-pop dealers” who don’t have the same resources as large shops.

"[T]hey have a vested interest in making sure their are communities safe." - Mark Oliva, National Shooting Sports Foundation

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Oliva says the theft problem “is honestly very concerning,” which is why the NSSF has partnered with the ATF to match rewards up to $5,000 for stolen guns and to help “recover those firearms and bring those criminals to justice.”

That partnership, known as Operation Secure Store, encourages voluntary safety measures that NSSF says have already helped cut down on break-ins at gun shops. During the first six months of 2021, the number of guns stolen was lower than the same period in 2020, according to an NSSF fact sheet that uses ATF data.

"These [smaller dealers] are people who live in these communities, their children go to school in these communities, they go to church in these communities – they have a vested interest in making sure their communities are safe,” he explained. But the additional requirements are a “recipe for driving them out of business.”

Still, the overall number of thefts around the country is staggering, and North Texas has seen a spate of gun store and gun range robberies this year.

The heist in Krum came just months after a spree of robberies targeting gun stores around North Texas. On July 18, a three-person crew ripped off Panther City Firearms in Fort Worth, cribbing 10 guns before they escaped.

On three separate nights in April, CBS DFW reported that robbers broke into several gun stores in the Dallas area: Elliot White Gun Co. in North Richland Hills, Republic Arsenal in Coppell and SK Arms in Flower Mound. All said, they got away with more than 40 guns as well as ammunition and other firearm accessories.

After they’re stolen, guns are likely to be used in violent crimes, according to a report published by the Center for American Progress. Between 2012 and 2018, the ATF documented some 14,800 guns that police recovered during criminal investigations which turned out to be stolen or lost from gun stores, the report explains.

Around the U.S., Texas tops the list of states with the most stolen guns, whether they're taken from gun stores or individuals. Between 2012 and 2016, thieves stole more than 3,200 guns from licensed dealers in the state, while individual gun owners were out nearly $79 million worth of guns from 2012 until 2015.

"In Texas, a lot of this [theft] is going to manifest as gun trafficking." - Lisa Geller, Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence

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In February 2018, USA Today reported that Texas also had the highest total number of gun violence incidents in the country.

In Congress, Sen. Richard Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, recently introduced a bill that would require gun dealers to keep guns safely stored, take meticulous inventory and beef up security with surveillance cameras and alarm systems, among other measures.

Lisa Geller, the state affairs manager at the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, says laws like Durbin's are important tools in the fight to crack down on violent crime.

“In Texas, a lot of this [theft] is going to manifest as gun trafficking,” she said. “It’s a huge problem, and we know that [more] regulations for firearms dealers is associated with fewer firearms being trafficked.”

In this year’s legislative session, Republican state lawmakers, backed by Gov. Greg Abbott, introduced a slew of gun-related laws, including so-called “constitutional carry,” or permitless carry.

With permitless carry in effect since Sept. 1, it’s easier than ever to publicly carry a gun in the state since the gun-slinging days of the Wild West. “We do know that public carry laws contribute to an increase in the number of guns stolen, the number of guns trafficked and the number of guns used in violent crimes,” Geller added.
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Patrick Strickland is the news editor at the Dallas Observer. He's a former senior reporter at Al Jazeera English and has reported for the New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Politico EU and The New Republic, among others.