Mother's heartbreaking story shines light on Florida gun thefts

Gun store security

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Just days away from her birthday, Gwen Tyson was excited to spend it with her family, especially her daughter, 27-year-old Kendra Lewis.

“If I see something on TV, I call Kendra. If I think something is funny, I pick up the phone to call Kendra,” says Tyson.

Tyson says Kendra was her diva;  girly girl.

“She brightens your day.”

But that all changed when Kendra pulled up to a Citgo Gas Station in Orlando on December 7.

She was shot in the head by two teenage boys who police say was mad at the clerk inside,

Lewis was an innocent bystander who had her 5-year-old daughter in the backseat of her car.

“We were told that she was shielding her daughter when she was shot,” says Tyson. “That’s your worst fear.

You fear getting phone call saying something happened to your daughter. You never know what you would do.

I never even thought. Then when we were heading to the store, I was just hoping it wasn’t her.”

Police say the gun that was used in the shooting was one that was stolen from a Tampa gun store just one week earlier. It was a burglary where more than 40 guns were stolen.


And those wont’ be the last guns stolen.

According to ATF, nationwide, the number of firearms stolen during gun store burglaries was up nearly 59 percent from 4,721 in 2015 to 7,488 in 2016.

In Florida, 39 stores were burglarized last year and 572 guns reported stolen.

So far this year, four months in, five stores in the bay area alone.

Craig Kailimai, assistant special agent in charge of the Tampa Field Division, for the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, would call it an epidemic.

“With increase across country and these are firearms being put out in communities for criminal purposes, it’s definitely an epidemic and something us at ATF are trying to address,” Kalimai said.

However, Craig Kailimai says they can only do so much to prevent it.

“We provide seminars to Federal Firearms licensees and different areas across the state. We are having more outreach and sending agents out to have one on one conversations with our licensees to educate them that this is a going trend and give them better ideas on how to secure their inventory.”

Kailiamai says it’s difficult to say how to get the trend to stop.

“Burglary is a crime of opportunity. If individuals believe business is easier to target then they’ll continue. We hope by education and being proactive, it will make it a deterrent and more difficult.”

But ATF can only do so much. They can make sure the guns are locked and secure but federally there’s no law that requires gun stores to implement some sort of security measures.

Nine States have laws in place.

But that hasn’t stopped nine states (Alabama, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia) from putting their own legislation in place requiring firearms dealers to utilize security measures. Florida is not one of them.

“ATF is a federal agency and they are doing as much as they can issue with limited resources,” says Michael McLively, an Attorney with the Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

“It’s up to the states to fill in gaps. 9 states have inactive laws that require gun stores to take security measures so guns aren’t being stolen. There is a gap in federal laws so on states to take initiative here.”
McLively says if you look at numbers of guns being stolen out of gun stores and that’s in issue.

“We definitely need states to step in when it comes to regulating dealers. Big role for states to play there,” says McLively.

No laws. No problem.

Even though there is no law requiring him to do so, Jim Hathcock, the owner of St. Pete Gun Store, says since day one he’s taken it upon himself, when his store is closed to lock up his guns in a safe.

“I don’t worry about them being somewhere not supposed to be. I don’t have to be chasing alarm systems,” says Hathcock. “A safe cost about $4,000 compared to the thousands of dollars I would lose in a burglary. It helps me sleep at night also. Knowing that the guns are not out on the street.”

Videos show just how quickly criminals are breaking into the gun stores and within seconds are out of there with dozens of guns in hand after breaking into glass cases.

“It’s definitely accessibility. It would take burglar more time to crack safe then simply break glass on case. The longer you have individual in business you’ll catch them,” says Kailimai.

Not that big of a problem.

Some gun store owners say that the real problem isn’t guns being stolen from their stores but from individuals.

They believe that more guns are being taken from homes and unlocked vehicles.

Sheriff Grady Judd with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office would disagree.

“It’s the ethical and moral responsibility for them to secure their guns when they are not there,” says

Sheriff Judd after Rapture Gun Store and Knives in Lakeland was burglarized and firearms were stolen.
“They either have to lock guns in safe or if it’s a huge store, make the store a safe. The responsible gun stores do. If we want to stop these criminals from having guns on street you have to be responsible.”

Kendra’s mom never thought a gun stolen all the way in Tampa could affect her, but now it’s something she has to deal with every single day.

“It has to stop. To many guns out here and nobody’s doing anything about it,” says Lewis.

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