JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Thieves are stealing an alarming number of guns from parked cars. It often happens while the car is parked in the driveway and the owner is inside their home sleeping.
According to crime numbers pulled by News4Jax, 260 guns have been stolen since January. More than half of them, 152 were taken from cars that were left unlocked.
"A lot of citizens see their cars as an extension of their home. So they really don't put the thought into what could happen if I leave the weapon in the car," explained Director Mike Bruno, with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
Of the 2,610 auto burglaries reported to the sheriff's office since the beginning of the year, 1,308 of the cars were not locked. Bruno is asking gun owners to take their firearms inside and not to leave them in their car, locked or not.
'It would be bad enough if the gun was used in a robbery, but if someone was seriously injured, shot or killed, as a responsible gun owner, I would look at that the rest of my life and realize what could I have done different? What impact did I have on some family that could have been preventable," said Bruno.
Most of the victims in these kinds of crimes are law abiding gun owners who went through the proper legal channels to buy the gun. What they do not realize is that they are helping arm criminals, who will use those guns to hurt someone else.
That is a reality that keeps local attorney, John Phillips awake at night. Both of his cars were stolen out of his driveway a few weeks ago. While the cars were recovered, the gun he had locked in the glove box of his SUV has still not been found.
"Someone's going to use that to commit a crime, It's just heartbreaking," said Phillips.
Phillips has a concealed weapons permit, he bought the gun for protection after he began receiving death threats representing Jordan Davis' family. Davis was 17 years old when he and another man argued about loud music coming from the man's car as they were parked at a Southside gas station three years ago. Michael Dunn is serving a life sentence for shooting and killing the teenager. The case received national attention and is the subject of a documentary about guns and self defense.
Phillips thinks he locked his SUV, but is not 100 percent certain. He says he feels terrible knowing his gun could be used to hurt someone. He shared his ordeal with News4jax in hopes that it will remind gun owners to take their guns inside with them, instead of leaving them overnight in a car.
Clay County guns stolen
News4Jax pulled crime statistics from Clay County and discovered 37 guns have been stolen from cars since January of this year. Derrick McRae left his .380 pistol overnight in the glove box of his pick up truck. The doors were not locked.
"I never thought such a heinous crime would be committed in a nice neighborhood. We've got quite a few policemen who live in the neighborhood, I never thought anything like that would happen," said McRae.
St. Johns County guns stolen
So far this year, 28 guns have been stolen from cars in St. Johns County. An AR- 15, .380 caliber guns and Glocks are among the type of weapons taken. Like in Duval County, many of the cars were not locked.
St. Augustine Beach guns targeted
Chief Robert Hardwick told us a group of thieves from Flagler County was caught earlier this year driving to St. Augustine Beach specifically to steal guns from cars.
"People have to report that these guns are missing," he explained. Sometimes gun owners may be too embarrassed to report their gun stolen, especially if they left their car doors unlocked. Hardwick says if that weapons is used to commit a crime, then it will be traced back to the gun owner.
Stolen guns sold on the street
Stolen guns are s
old for between $25 and a couple hundred dollars on the street.
Last year, News4Jax exposed how these gun sales happen in parking lots of popular stores in broad daylight. These guns are very hard to trace since they pass hands so many times being peddled on the street.
Stolen guns used to kill
Last month, 17-year-old Jaylene Cruz was killed by her boyfriend.
Police say she and seventeen year old Elgardo Garcia were playing with the weapon when it went off, killing her last month. Police say the gun Garcia used had been reported stolen in Orlando. The couple had just moved to East Arlington from Orlando.
Tarpon Springs police officer Charles Kondek was killed last year when he was responding to a noise complaint. The gun used to shot him had been reported stolen from a car here in Jacksonville. Kondek was married with six children.
Nearly three years ago, Detective David White, with the Clay County Sheriff's Office was killed during a raid at a house suspected of making drugs. The gun used to shoot him had also been reported stolen.
Anyone can be a target of thieves who break into cars and steal guns. In two separate incidents last month, two Duval County School District police officers had their guns stolen. In each case, their AR-15 rifles with fully loaded magazines where taken. One of the vehicles was unlocked.
Duval County Public Schools told News4Jax the district is planning on updating its policy to reduce gun theft opportunities.