After a person or people unknown broke into the Toano General Store last October, they stole 33 firearms along with ammunition and cash.
Six months later, at least one of the guns was found as far away as Atlanta, Georgia, according to Toano General Store owner Don Bishard. He’s updated his security system with new motion sensors, among other things, but said he knows that if someone wants his guns, they’ll find a way to take them.
“It could have been a big group, because there were like four or five places that got hit that weekend,” Bishard said. “One in Norfolk, one in Gloucester, all that.”
The theft from Bishard’s store pushed the number of stolen firearms up to a five-year high in James City County, according to a Virginia Gazette analysis of data provided by local law enforcement through Freedom of Information Act requests.
In 2018, the James City County Police Department took reports for 82 stolen firearms including Bishard’s, according to the analysis. In neighboring York County, 55 firearms were reported stolen. Williamsburg had no reports of stolen firearms last year.
Across Virginia last year, the number of firearms stolen from federally licensed gun dealers decreased for the first time since 2013, according to data from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
For York and Poquoson Sheriff Danny Diggs, it’s not the gun thefts themselves that can be troubling. It’s the intent of the thief.
“A gun that is stolen by a person that just intends to sell it is no more dangerous than a car that is stolen for the same purpose,” Diggs said in an email. “A car that is stolen to kill someone is just a dangerous as a gun that is stolen to kill someone.
“It is the person who has the gun and their intent for use that determines how dangerous it is.”
About 50 guns are reported stolen to the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office each year, according to the analysis. But in Williamsburg, that number is much smaller: On average, less than one gun has been reported stolen since 2014.
For Williamsburg Police Department spokesman John Heilman, that low number comes down to safe gun ownership.
“Citizens play a big role in keeping our community safe by ensuring legally owned firearms stay out of the hands of those who desire to commit crimes,” Heilman said. “People who steal guns have not only broken the law but demonstrate irresponsible and erratic behavior in doing so.”
The key to prevent firearms from being stolen is to make it too difficult for a potential gun thief to steal them, Heilman said.
“Stolen firearms are often used in the commission of a crime but this can be prevented by gun owners securing their weapons in proper storage,” Heilman said. “There are many storage options for gun owners and while each gun owner's situation may be different, we encourage people to make an investment in keeping their weapons safe and secure.”
For Bishard, gun owners can take steps to make it more difficult for potential gun thieves.
“They’ve got to lock their guns up in a safe if they own quite a few guns,” Bishard said.
Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.