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Missing pieces: Lost and stolen guns used in thousands of crimes

9Wants to Know analyzed data in Colorado and found at least 800 guns were stolen out of cars in Denver from 2008 to 2015. Many were later used in more violent crimes.

Katie Wilcox

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Editor's note: 9Wants to Know first aired this investigation on Nov. 21, 2017. The Denver Police Department on Monday, Sept. 24 released new data about the rising problem of legally-purchased stolen guns used in metro-area crimes. Click/tap here to read about the new data.

Thousands of crimes across the country are committed using guns stolen from lawful gun owners’ homes, cars and gun stores. That's according to an analysis of crime data --- and the number of stolen guns are rising each year.

9Wants to Know partnered with local NBC news stations and the nonprofit news organization The Trace to analyze records from more than 1,000 law enforcement offices across the country to try and connect stolen guns to crimes.

Credit: 9NEWS/Anna Hewson
Bob Troyer is the U.S. Attorney for the district of Colorado and was recently appointed to the National Crime Gun Intelligence Governing Board.

“It’s absolutely what law enforcement has known all along,” said Colorado’s U.S. attorney Bob Troyer. “These guns are going into the hands of criminals who want them, who buy them, who trade for them so they can use them in crimes.”

9Wants to Know analyzed data in Colorado and found at least 800 guns were stolen out of cars in Denver from 2008 to 2015. Many were later used in more violent crimes.

The yearlong investigation found more than 23,000 lost and stolen guns were recovered by police from 2010 to 2016, the vast majority connected to crimes.

The black market of weapons has increased in size as more weapons are reported stolen from lawful owners year after year, leading some law enforcement officers around the country to ask gun owners and gun dealers to better protect themselves and lock their weapons.

“Somebody’s going to get killed and I don’t think the general public really wants to see any more of that right now,” said Debbie Livingston, special agent in charge of the Denver field division for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Information from National Crime Information Center about reported gun thefts in the United States over 11 years.

More than 237,000 guns nationwide were reported stolen to the National Crime Information Center in 2016, a database maintained by the FBI. That represents a 68 percent increase in stolen weapons reported to the FBI since 2005. Some of the increase may be attributed to better reporting from local law enforcement.

The FBI database suggests nearly two million weapons have been stolen around the country in the last decade.

9Wants to Know found that police took at least 617 lost or stolen guns into evidence in Colorado, including at least 394 guns in Denver since 2010. This provides a narrow glimpse of the total number of illegal weapons used in crimes, as many weapons are not traceable, and the data is incomplete.

“All of these things are going into the hands of criminals that are committing other crimes with this particular kind of property down the line,” Troyer said.