Houston

Houston police: Gun thefts from cars in 2023 already outpacing previous years

Police said vehicles “advertising” having a gun makes them likely targets for thefts.

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Houston police are warning about a growing problem with thieves prowling parking lots and high-rise parking garages looking for guns to steal. Gun thefts from motor vehicles have been on the rise in the past few years and this year is already outpacing previous numbers.

"We are up 10 to 15 percent already this year so we aren't on the right track," said Sergeant Tracy Hicks, Houston PD auto thefts crimes task force.

An analysis of FBI data by the group Everytown for Gun Safety shows an increase of 225% in the number of guns stolen from motor vehicles in the past decade. There are now more than 40,000 guns stolen from vehicles nationwide with Houston reporting 4,400 thefts in 2022.

Hicks says the car break-ins are often well-orchestrated.

"With the parking garages these guys are getting there at 3 or 4 in the morning and literally hitting almost every car in the parking lot just because they can. They aren't afraid of cameras. They have a guy on the bottom floor looking out and the other guy walks up the ramp smashing windows."

Hicks says they've had up to 100 vehicles broken into at one time with surprisingly none of the owners reporting anything missing.

"There are laptops and bags and all kinds of stuff in those cars, and they aren't taking any of that. That tells me that they are looking for one thing in particular and that was guns."

There is not one reason cited for the increase in thefts, but Hicks says the resale value of guns is likely a determining factor. Laptops and phones can be tracked and turned off remotely. Guns retain their value especially because they can be sold to people who otherwise couldn't legally purchase them.

MORE: Crime Stoppers discusses gun-related crime on Houston Matters

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Hicks said another possible reason for the increase is the loosening of gun laws. More people are legally carrying, and these guns are often left in the vehicles when the owner goes inside an establishment that doesn't allow weapons inside. He added that people who break in know the locations of these establishments and often look for signs the vehicle might have a weapon inside.

Hicks says gun owners shouldn't advertise.

"The first thing they are going to do is look for vehicles that advertise they are pro-gun," he said.

Bumper stickers advertising the driver is a firefighter or ex-military are often targeted because of their traditional pro-gun stance, he said.

HPD has responded by promoting gun safes and reminding gun owners to plan ahead if they are traveling to a venue that doesn't allow weapons inside. Hundreds of vehicle gun safes have already been given out and with HPD planning more giveaways in the future.

"Forty-four hundred (gun thefts) is a crazy number especially when that number should be and could be zero."