Gun shops do not have to secure their weapons, but most still spend thousands to do so

Thieves broke into Lev's Pawn Shop on Brice Road in the early morning hours of Sept. 11, 2019. (Photo credit: Lev's Pawn Shop surveillance video)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Thieves struck another local gun shop, but the break-in did not make many waves. That is likely because only one gun was stolen from Lev's Pawn Shop on Brice Road last Wednesday morning.

And the shop manager says there is a good reason for that.

"A lot of people think that, at the pawn shop, everything they see out in the daytime is what we have out at night, too, and if they burglarize the place, they’re going to come in and find this big treasure trove," said manager Chris McClaskey. "And they didn’t realize, we put everything away."

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The thieves made a beeline for the gun counter but then left the store after realizing the guns were no longer on the shelves. Every night, Lev's employees stash the dozens of guns in the shop to make the shop less appealing for thieves. There also are gates on the door, and a surveillance system.

That type of security is something McClaskey says is extremely important.

"If we want to still be able to responsibly sell these firearms, unless we want all firearms to be banned and taken away, we have to be more responsible, and we just have to do more than we’re doing right now," McClaskey said.

It's a sentiment shared by Eric Delbert, co-owner of L.E.P.D. Firearms Range and Training Facility. Delbert and his team had concrete bollards installed out front. Along with those, there is a pull-down metal gate for the front door and even a night guard dog named Boeing.

But the biggest piece of the security puzzle may be the extensive camera system.

"We have cameras that would rival a casino," Delbert said. "So if something does happen, then it is going to be captured on video for hopefully an immediate prosecution."

He says that, even with the fastest law enforcement response time, thieves would likely be long gone by the time officers arrived. So, it is up to the stores to take as many proactive measures as they can.

"It’s very expensive," Delbert said. "I mean, it’s a lot of times almost cost-prohibitive. But we’ve made the stance that this is something that is so important. The thought of having a firearm on the streets used against fellow citizens or fellow officers is sickening to us, and we want to do everything possible, even if it’s costly, to prevent that."

But stores, by law, are not required to do anything when it comes to security, according to Suzanne Dabkowski, public information officer for the Columbus Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"They have to be able to account for their firearms to ATF, and they’re required to report to ATF within 48 hours if there’s any stolen or missing inventory, but other than being able to account for - these 12 firearms are missing as of January 1 - there are no requirements as to the way they're stored," she said.

But the ATF does offer advice on how stores can be more secure so that stolen weapons do not end up on the streets.

The ATF teamed up with NSSF, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, to launch Operation Secure Store in January of last year. NSSF members can get a risk assessment. Dozens of dealers actually converged on Columbus this past summer to learn more about the program.

"Any time someone is desperate enough to break in to a licensed firearms dealer to steal firearms, they’re only doing that because they can’t legally obtain firearms," Dabkowski said. "You know they’re going to be selling those firearms on the black market, they’ll be trading them for drugs, they’ll be using them for their own criminal purposes. There’s just no good end to firearms that are stolen that way."

Last year, ATF statistics show 5,981 weapons were stolen, via burglary or robbery, from licensed firearms dealers in the U.S. Of those, 280 were stolen from Ohio dealers. That puts the Buckeye State behind only Texas and Georgia in numbers of weapons stolen last year.

Just this year, 10TV reported on thefts from both a Westerville gun shop and a Plain City store. In both cases, thieves used vehicles to ram the shop for the break-ins.

"It’s a huge public safety issue for ATF," Dabkowski said. "They're going to be using (stolen firearms) for things that impact all of our lives, even if you personally are not a firearms owner. It can enter your life in that way in the form of some sort of violent crime."