‘Cars make horrible gun safes’: Firearms stolen from vehicles about triples from 2019 to 2020

Majority of stolen firearms reported taken from vehicles

MADISON, Wis. – Data shows car thefts have risen each year in Madison since 2017, with certain items being stolen out of cars becoming a bigger concern as well.

According to data from the Madison Police Department, between 2016 and 2019 there were between 24 and 43 firearms reported stolen from vehicles yearly. In 2019, the number was 31, before nearly tripling to 90 in 2020.

So far in 2021 between the months of January and August, more guns have been reported stolen from vehicles than in all of 2019 at 38, with 15 reports coming in August alone. According to MPD, that data may still change as they finish typing up reports.

“I think it’s very, very dangerous,” Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes said, calling firearm thefts from cars a crime of opportunity. “I think people just get lucky during break-ins, and then look for weapons places weapons may be, whether it’s a dresser drawer or a glove compartment or underneath a seat, and they just get lucky.”

The year 2020 represents an anomaly in many ways, also impacting statistics. Barnes noted that for property crime to occur, there needs to be a suitable target, a motivated offender and a lack of guardianship.

“2020 presented an opportunity for all three elements to be present as the quarantine created suitable targets as people left valuables in their vehicles because they were home and they thought they could easily observe their property,” Barnes said.  “Offenders were motivated by the lack of people who would normally be moving out and about and could easily identify suspicious behavior.  I expect these trends to decline as we return to normalcy in our community.”

In Madison, data shows the majority of reported firearms stolen – about 78% since 2016 – were stolen from vehicles.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne says based on referrals in the county, a large number of entries and stolen items out of vehicles were committed by juveniles.

“That is a very serious concern,” Ozanne said. “That also means that these guns, firearms are now being put in the hands of juveniles, and that’s really a recipe for disaster.”

News 3 Now read through all available reports of firearms stolen from autos so far this year. Most reported missing had been left under a car seat, in the glove box or the center console of the car.

“Cars make horrible guns safes,” Barnes said.

One victim reports he locks his car “99 out of 100 times” but must have forgotten.

Rarely were guns returned and even more rarely were the culprits found. In one report, the gun stolen was recovered in Chicago in the commission of a crime.

“Once the gun is out there, the people that steal it are not the people you want to have your gun,” said Brett Fankhauser, a longtime manager at Deerfield Pistol and Archery Center.

He’s gotten phone calls from customers who had their guns stolen looking for serial numbers. He recommends keeping track of serial numbers and doing all you can to keep your firearm secure from potential thieves in the first place.

“They want quick, that’s what they’re looking for, something quick,” Fankhauser said. “Keep your guns secure. Don’t leave your gun in the car. The car is not secure.”

Tethered lock boxes can keep guns more safe in a car, but at the end of the day, Fankhauser said a gun is safer on your person or secured at home.

“Be responsible with it,” Fankhauser said. “When it gets stolen and it goes in the hands of people that aren’t that and they use them to hurt somebody, and if you ever find out that it’s your gun that did it that’s going to be a weight on your mind.”