Apr 10, 2017
INDIANAPOLIS -- At least 94 guns were reported stolen in Marion County from Jan. 1 – March 31. That's more than one gun theft a day, on average.
During the same period, 11 stolen guns were recovered by IMPD officers – mostly found in the possession of suspects in other criminal investigations.
Those 94 missing guns were reported stolen from all around the city. Most were reported stolen from homes; though an alarming number – 16 – were taken from unlocked vehicles.
One of those guns belonged to 43-year-old Andrew Cunningham, who believes he fell victim to a man wandering around his neighborhood checking car doors. He says on the same night his gun was stolen, one of his neighbors had a GPS taken from his vehicle as well.
Cunningham says he always travels with a handgun for self-defense, He also says this isn't the first time one of his guns has been stolen.
"I've thought about that," Cunningham said. "It's not the first time it's happened to me, actually. But to me, it's more a validation of why I do carry a gun. There's no way we can avoid criminals from getting guns. Yeah, it sucks, but they're going to get it regardless."
Having a gun for self-defense isn't just a hypothetical for Cunningham. He says a firearm likely saved his life five years ago.
"I had a gentleman who broke into my house and I pointed a gun at him, and he left immediately," Cunningham said. "In that case it probably saved my life."
An analysis of incident report data from the first three months of the year suggests most guns are stolen during the course of otherwise typical burglaries.
More than 4,100 thefts were reported in Marion County from January through March of this year. Police were called 85 times specifically for a stolen gun – but that may not represent the true number of stolen guns, since some firearm owners are hesitant to involve police, fearing their gun ownership will be registered somehow.
Attorney Andy Maternowski says Indiana doesn't register firearms to their owners. One consequence is that, unless you save your guns' serial numbers somewhere, police may recover your stolen firearms but never be able to trace them back to you.
As it happens, Maternowski is also a gun theft victim. Someone broke into his home earlier this year and stole two handguns – one a revolver, the other a semi-automatic. He couldn't give police the serial numbers because all of the documentation – along with years of paperwork from his legal practice – was destroyed when his basement flooded.
"My guns, without me digging out the serial numbers, there would be no way to identify ownership of them," Maternowski said. "I suppose if those guns were seized and ATF ran a trace on the serial numbers, then I guess they might be able to say, yes, these were your guns."
Like Cunningham, Maternowski says the idea that one of his guns might be used someday in a crime isn't particularly troubling, given how easy it is to obtain a gun in the first place.
"I am more worried that my gun got stolen than I am about it floating out there and possibly being used in a crime of some kind," he said. "Guns are readily available, so I think if it were my gun used in something, versus any other gun, I think a person who is bound and determined to commit a crime with a gun is going to find a gun."
IMPD says every time its officers encounter a gun during an investigation, that gun gets traced.
The department has traced more than 11,000 guns since 2013 – including more than 3,100 last year alone.
The information police actually receive from a firearm trace is limited. But the trace will tell them when the firearm was originally purchased, who originally purchased it and whether the gun has been reported stolen.
Given that limited data set, what 11,000 traces' worth of data shows is that most guns recovered by police in Indianapolis since 2013 have a time-to-crime period of three or more years (meaning they were purchased at least three years prior to ever being linked to a crime).
Only 15 percent of the guns recovered over that period had been purchased within a year of being used in a crime, and only 5 percent had been purchased within the past three months.
Although it's harder to determine how quickly guns are used in a crime after being stolen, anecdotal evidence gleaned from police reports suggests they go into circulation quickly.
A traffic stop on March 2 on East 38th Street resulted in the arrest of a 25-year-old suspect in possession of stolen property – including a .40-caliber pistol reported stolen in October of last year.
A few weeks earlier, on February 20, officers searching for a wanted person in the 3000 block of West 16th Street recovered two stolen rifles – one of which had been reported stolen earlier that month.
So what happens to you if IMPD recovers your stolen gun at the scene of a crime? Not much – at least in Indiana.
Eleven states, including Illinois and Ohio, require gun owners to report their stolen firearms to police. Indiana is not one of them, though.
In Indianapolis, the City-County Council approved a measure in December 2015 that would have required gun owners to report stolen firearms within 48 hours or face a fine, but it was vetoed by then-Mayor Greg Ballard.
Indiana is also one of 44 states that does not require firearm owners to register their guns. Some states, like Florida, have even prohibited laws that would require gun registrations.
IMPD says if it does encounter a stolen gun, it will make three efforts to contact the owner to return it. If those efforts fail, the gun will be destroyed.
Andrew Cunningham said he doesn't expect he'll ever get either of his stolen guns back. But at the end of the day, he says it's just like any other theft to him.
"You just report the serial number, get another one and move on," he said.