Two thieves who police believe targeted a pair of gun stores in the Town of Ulster last month are now in the crosshairs of a federal investigation.
On March 8, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the National Shooting Sports Foundation announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the unidentified individuals.
“We want to get these individuals in pocket as soon as possible,” said ATF spokesman Matthew Fleming this week. “Because we don’t want to see innocent people get hurt.”
The first burglary occurred on Feb. 23 when, authorities said, two individuals — their features partially obscured by hooded sweatshirts — forced their way into Ruger’s Custom Guns at 1050 Morton Boulevard around 1:30 a.m. The thieves made off with a long gun, police said.
Police believe the same pair struck again on Feb. 27 when they broke into Safeshoot, an indoor shooting range and gun shop at 10 Kieffer Lane. In that incident, the thieves made off with two handguns and ammunition. Cops are investigating whether the same duo are behind a Feb. 22 burglary in Kingston that netted additional firearms.
There are no federal or state laws mandating security measures at licensed gun stores. But Town of Ulster Police Chief Kyle Berardi said that both of the targeted retailers had security cameras and other security measures in place. In both cases, Berardi said, the thieves simply forced their way into the business, grabbed whatever they could easily access and fled.
“Both owners have been fully cooperative,” said Berardi of the investigation. “I don’t think there’s anything they could have done to avoid it.”
While thefts of firearms from residences or vehicles are prosecuted at the state level, theft of a firearm from a “Federal Firearms Licensee” is a federal crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Most Federal Firearms Licensees are gun dealers who undergo rigorous background checks and must comply with strict record-keeping and other guidelines to maintain their license. The license allows for interstate sale and transportation of guns and, in some cases, allows holders to keep firearms like machine guns which are prohibited to the general public.
Thefts from gun stores, along with legal purchases by straw buyers working on behalf of criminal organizations and more routine thefts from homes, are the primary ways guns make it onto the lucrative black market. ATF sources, however, say gun store heists for trafficking purposes are more common in the South while burglaries in New York are more often the work of drug addicts looking to make fast money, or people seeking a gun to use in a crime. In 2017, there were five reported thefts from federal firearms license holders, accounting for 102 stolen guns. By contrast, Texas reported 57 FFL burglaries accounting for 769 stolen guns in the same year. Nationwide, 7,488 guns were lost to burglaries from FFL’s in 2016.
Anyone with information about either burglary or the stolen firearms should contact ATF at 1-888-ATF-GUNS (888-283-4867), the Ulster Police Department at (845) 382-1111, the Kingston Police Department at (845)331-1671 or email ATFTips@atf.gov or contact ATF through its website at www.atf.gov/contact/atf/atf-tips. Tips may also be submitted to the ATF through the Reportit app, available on both Google Play and the Apple App Store, or by visiting www.reportit.com. All tips will remain confidential.