ATF warns Florida gun dealers to prepare for Hurricane Irma

A view of Hurricane Irma from space. Irma, a category five, is one of the strongest ever recorded storms in the Atlantic Ocean. (Photo: NOAA)

A view of Hurricane Irma from space. Irma, a category five, is the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean. (Photo: NOAA)

As Hurricane Irma — the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean — barrels toward Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the federal government warns gun dealers to prepare for the worst, now.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives released an advisory Tuesday encouraging all federal licensed dealers in the storm’s potential path to “safeguard” their businesses by removing guns and ammo and important paperwork to a safer, drier location.

“While it is still too early to determine what other impacts Hurricane Irma may have, the NHC (National Hurricane Center) also advises that those living in hurricane-prone areas, such as Georgia and South Carolina, ensure they have their hurricane plan in place,” the agency said.

The National Hurricane Center upgraded Irma to a category five storm Tuesday, with sustained wind speeds of 185 miles per hour. Hurricane warnings have been posted for much of the Caribbean in preparation for landfall Wednesday. Forecasters say its too early to determine if and when Irma will hit the U.S. mainland, though several models predict the storm will track over southern Florida by the weekend.

“We could see storm surges of 7 to 11 feet — that’s certainly life-threatening — and very, very heavy flooding rainfall,” Dr. Michael Brennan, an NHC senior hurricane specialist, told CNN Tuesday of the storm’s impact in the Caribbean.

Despite uncertainty about Irma’s eventual path, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Tuesday and ordered 7,000 National Guard troops to report to duty by Friday morning.

“I cannot stress this enough. Get prepared,” Scott said. “Learn your evacuation zone. Listen to your locals. This storm has the potential to devastate this state. You have to take this seriously.”

Irma comes a week after Hurricane Harvey caused unprecedented flooding and more than 60 deaths in southeastern Texas. Three Houston-area gun dealers reported 97 firearms stolen in the storm’s aftermath. The ATF sent SRT agents to the city to provide extra protection for FFLs in looting-prone areas, according to local media reports.

“They’re looking for easy money,” said James Hillin, owner of Full Armor Firearms in Houston. “They know that power’s going to be out all over so they figure there won’t be alarms or surveillance. Of course, I have a big generator and backup batteries. Nothing wrong with being prepared.”

Looters struck a South Carolina gun shop in October, stealing more than 200 firearms during Hurricane Matthew. A dealer in Florida, where Matthew made landfall earlier the same week, reported more than three dozen guns taken during the storm.