ALL GUNS REPORTED STOLEN IN TENNESSEE BY YEAR
20148,281: Tennessee503: Hamilton County289: Chattanooga20138,542: Tennessee568: Hamilton County351: Chattanooga20128,651: Tennessee463: Hamilton County274: ChattanoogaSource: Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
GUNS REPORTED STOLEN OR LOST BY LICENSED DEALERS IN 2015
14,800: United States683: Georgia397: TennesseeSource: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
RECOVERED FIREARMS TRACED TO CHATTANOOGA
These firearms were recovered by law enforcement agencies all over the country and traced back to Chattanooga.2014: 8042013: 7742012: 6982011: 6052010: 5522009: 631Source: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
GUNS SEIZED BY CHATTANOOGA POLICE
2016: 191 year-to-date2015: 7262014: 7022013: 6972012: 609Source: Chattanooga Police Department
Licensed gun dealers in Tennessee and Georgia reported 1,080 weapons stolen or lost in 2015, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, amid what the agency says is a nationwide uptick in gun thefts.
Dealers with federal firearms licenses in Georgia reported 683 guns stolen or lost, while Tennessee dealers reported 397 such firearms. Nationwide, dealers reported 14,800 firearms stolen or lost - including pistols, rifles, shotguns, revolvers, machine guns and even one tear gas launcher, among other weapons.
"There is an epidemic out there of stolen firearms," said Michael Knight, ATF special agent. "We as an agency don't want to say, 'Everything is great and there are no issues.' We want the public to know, without getting scared, that there is a huge issue with firearms being stolen."
ATF's count of stolen or lost guns only includes firearms that went missing from federally licensed dealers during 2015, not guns owned by private citizens.
That number is undoubtedly much higher - but it's also much harder to track, Chattanooga police investigators say.
Federal license holders are required to record each weapon's serial number, make and model, and must report stolen or lost guns to ATF within 48 hours, Knight said.
"So if that gun is recovered in Chicago at a crime scene, we can trace it back to the [federal firearm licensee] in Chattanooga," Knight said.
But private citizens aren't mandated by law to keep the same records, and many gun owners don't keep track of their weapons' serial numbers, which makes it nearly impossible for authorities to trace a gun or return a stolen weapon to its legal owner.
"The chance of recovering these firearms if [owners] don't have a serial number is very remote," said Chattanooga police task force Officer Phillip Narramore, who is assigned to work with ATF.
Police seize hundreds of firearms from Chattanooga's streets every year. In 2015, police seized 726 guns that were either illegally possessed or used to commit crimes. From the start of 2012 to the end of 2015, police took in 2,734 guns.
In Chattanooga, it's most common for guns to be stolen from an owner's vehicle, police Sgt. Rebecca Crites said. She urged gun owners not to leave weapons in their vehicles, and said most vehicle break-ins happen when the driver leaves something of value in plain sight.
Gun owners should also be sure to have each weapon's serial number and photo recorded somewhere safe, like at a relative's house, she said. And businesses that sell guns should invest in cameras and alarms, she added.
In Dalton, Ga., two men stole 44 guns from a pawnshop in November. They were in and out in three minutes, investigators said at the time, and got away despite tripping the shop's alarm. That type of burglary is happening all over the country, Knight said.
He's seen an increase in the number of smash-and- grab style burglaries perpetrated against gun dealers, with the burglars breaking into shops with brute force and getting out with dozens of guns at once.
Such large-scale burglaries from dealers happen in Chattanooga, Crites said, but not nearly as often as burglaries from private gun owners. She said the city hasn't seen a notable increase in the frequency of gun thefts.
Each stolen or lost gun can last for years on the streets, Narramore said. So far this year, police have seized 191 guns - about 2.6 a day.
"If you buy a kilo of cocaine, it will eventually be used up," he said. "With a gun, once it hits the other side, it's there for life."
Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or firstname.lastname@example.org with tips or story ideas. Follow @ShellyBradbury.