Albert Usset has long known how brazen gun thieves can be. His education came in 1995 when burglars slammed a stolen car through the front door of his Ace Hardware in Rockford and stole six handguns.
“I learned that there were some really vicious, bad people out there,” said Usset, who has worked at the Rockford store since 1981.
It’s a problem that has only grown since then for both businesses and authorities. In Minnesota, both sides are trying to get in front of a nationwide crime wave that has seen thefts from gun stores skyrocket in the past five years.
On Thursday, Usset was one of about 60 gun sellers attending a crash course at an Edina library on keeping their gun inventories from getting into the hands of criminals.
“Prevention is a big push here,” said Hans Hummel, director of industry operations for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which led the seminar. The ATF cannot impose store security measures. But the agency noted that Minnesota is one of just nine states requiring firearms dealers to adopt security protocols to mitigate the risk of theft from their businesses. The state also has uncommonly stringent requirements for firearms storage after business hours and electronic security systems.
“The theme of this seminar is how to protect your business, how to protect your assets — which ultimately means how to protect your livelihood,” said Sarah Schmidt, an ATF industry operations investigator.
Nationally, the number of firearms stolen in gun-store burglaries has shot up 48 percent since 2012.
“We’re fortunate in Minnesota that we’re not necessarily following the national trend yet,” Hummel said in an interview Thursday. “Quite frankly all it would take is one crew, one group that realizes the profit they could make or who has a need that could victimize a number of our dealers.”
Earlier this year, the ATF introduced a notification system called fflAlert that sends short-phone messages to gun stores when a robbery or burglary is reported in their county.
The agency also issued new guidance outlining best practices for tracking firearms inventories, monitoring alarm systems and suggestions for bolstering security.
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek opened the seminar with remarks that charted a link between a recent uptick in violent crime and firearms hitting the streets from thefts or straw purchases, in which a stand-in buys a firearm for someone who’s been banned from making such a purchase.
“I’m asking you, I’m pleading with you,” Stanek told the firearms dealers, “when you go home at night, lock up those firearms.”
Usset expressed skepticism that large sellers would have the time every evening to lock away each of their long guns.
But he said he’s been securing his handguns before going home each evening since burglary 22 years ago.
“Because when they break in that’s what they’re after,” he said.