CHICAGO - There has been an alarming surge in the number of gun store burglaries across the U.S., the I-Team has learned, and the latest figures reveal Illinois is near the top of the list.
The troubling trend is feeding an illegal gun epidemic in Chicago and suspected of driving a record number of shootings in recent years, according to federal investigators.
Data tracking the thefts of licensed gun stores indicates that they are becoming easy marks as the number of burglaries in Illinois has nearly tripled in recent years.
Fourteen gun stores were hit by thieves last year and 280 firearms stolen, according to data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
So far in 2017 there have been 20 burglaries and 290 guns stolen here, the I-Team has learned.
Some of the most brazen smash and grab thefts have been recorded on store video cameras.
In a recent Indiana gun store burglary thieves are seen kicking in glass and making off with armloads of firearms. The heist took place at Blythe's Sporting Goods in Valparaiso.
Ramming vehicles into gun shops is becoming an increasingly popular m/o for burglary crews.
That tactic was tried - and stopped - at Maxon Shooter's Supplies and Indoor Range in August of 2016.
"Any security for any shop is all about delay," said Maxon's owner Dan Eldridge. "You're simply trying to delay criminal from accomplishing what they are trying to do before the police can respond."
Eldridge declined to identify the enhanced security measures he employed but said they were successful in warding off attackers without any guns being stolen.
Even though gun dealers must be federal licensed, there are no federal laws requiring stores to keep a certain level of security.
Nevertheless, gun store owners in metro Chicago and across the U.S. are shoring up their security to prevent thefts. Tactics include concrete-filled metal posts being put in arounds building perimeters.
Investigators say guns stolen from here and increasingly from stores in other states-end up feeding the arsenals of Chicago street gangs.
Federal authorities say that guns stolen recently in Arizona and California are turning up in the hands of Chicago gangbangers.
"The federal firearms licensees that are being burglarized in all of these different states they are ending up in Chicago because it's supply and demand," ATF Chicago Special Agent in Charge Celinez Nunez told the I-Team.
"This is where most of these people want to get rid of their guns- in the city of Chicago. You know they can sell it and make a profit right away" Nunez said.