ATF: Stolen firearms from Carolinas region highest in the nation

Over 200 guns were stolen from the Five Star Gun store in Longs, S.C., during Hurricane Matthew (Photo: Lisa Gresci/WMBF)

Over 200 guns were stolen from the Five Star Gun store in Longs, S.C., during Hurricane Matthew (Photo: Lisa Gresci/WMBF)

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent an open letter to federally licensed gun dealers in North and South Carolina about a rash of burglaries and armed robberies plaguing the region.

Christopher Hyman, special agent in charge at the ATF Charlotte Field Division office, said dealers have reported more than 90 thefts this year for a total of 930 missing firearms — an “alarming total” never before seen in the Carolinas and the highest nationwide.

Last month, thieves used the cover of Hurricane Matthew to steal 229 firearms from a dealer in Longs, South Carolina. The shop owner told NBC News the criminals smashed store windows and display cases, making off with a stash of Rugers and Glock handguns, AR-15s, AK-47s and a few shotguns.

The ATF offered a $10,000 reward leading to recovery of the guns — an amount the National Shooting Sports Foundation promises to match.

In September, the McClatchy Regional News Service reported a string of robberies in Charlotte and nearby Fort Mill, South Carolina, where thieves rammed vehicles through the front entrances of gun shops.

“These crimes pose a significant threat to public safety and continue to present very real challenges to ATF and the firearms industry,” Hyman wrote in the letter, dated Nov. 10.

Hyman advised gun dealers to consider using security systems and surveillance cameras, as well as installing cement planters and barriers around shop entrances to prevent criminals from crashing through doors and windows. Dealers could lock inventory in gun safes overnight and increase indoor lighting during off-business hours as other precautionary measures, he said.

“The firearms industry and ATF share a common goal of reducing gun violence by preventing the diversion of firearms from legitimate commerce to the criminal element,” Hyman said. “Firearms dealers play a vital role in keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals by maintaining strong firearms security measures and sound inventory practices.”