RCMP in Alberta are warning gun owners to lock up their weapons. In just a few years, between 2012 to 2015, the number of stolen guns has jumped from 633 to 1, 300. That’s just the number reported in areas policed by RCMP.
Those statistics do not include gun thefts in Edmonton, Calgary, Medicine Hat, Taber and Camrose.
Most of the gun thefts are rifles. RCMP say sometimes it’s a crime of opportunity during a break-in. But more and more, organized crime groups are seeking out weapons to steal so they can build up their stash.
“People talk, it’s just a matter of being careful,” RCMP Assistant Commissioner Marlin Degrand said.
“If you had a bunch of jewellery and diamonds in your house, you’d safeguard it.”
About 40 per cent of the gun thefts are from vehicles, so now police agencies are urging gun owners to lock up their weapons and report if they’re stolen right away.
Degrand said stolen firearms in one province are showing up in other provinces, and many times are involved in multiple crime scenes.
One of the most horrific examples was Edmonton’s worst mass murder. In December 2014, Phu Lam used a gun stolen in British Columbia to murder eight people.
In March 2011, convicted murderer William Bicknell used stolen guns in a hostage taking and shoot-out with police. Bicknell, already convicted of second-degree murder, was out on a prison day pass when he overpowered the guard. He then collected stolen guns hidden in a storage unit before police captured him in a violent take-down nine days later.
READ MORE: William Bicknell receives life sentence
(Graphic credit: Tonia Huynh, Global News)
The Edmonton Police Service also tracks the number of firearms seized.
In 2015, around 1,800 were collected. Hundreds of those were voluntarily turned in, but 858 were connected to criminal investigations. Police say 130 of those guns were seized from one address of an alleged Freeman on the Land follower, an anti-police movement.
“When you find that sort of stash of firearms in the hands of one individual, it’s extremely concerning for police,” EPS spokesperson Scott Pattison said.
Edmonton police are also finding more airguns on the street. BB, pellet and replica guns can look very similar to high-powered weapons.
Pattison said a common vehicle stop is now dangerous for officers.
“He doesn’t know these days who’s behind the particular window,” Pattison said. “If there’s a firearm involved, on the seat, there’s no way for them to tell if it’s a replica or not. They look very similar.”
RCMP say more stolen guns on the street put everybody at risk.
Degrand said times have changed since he started his policing career, when it was rare to find guns.
“It’s almost an exception when we don’t find firearms.”