July, 2000


Crufflers dread the prospect of returning to their houses to discover that the premises have been invaded and ransacked, and that some or all of their firearms have been stolen.  Not only is there the sickening, vulnerable and violated feeling that is associated with any burglary, but there is also the tremendous guilt (whether merited or not) associated with knowing that your guns are out on the street, and may be used to violate others.  In this first of a two part series on gun theft, we're going to hear from a Cruffler who was a victim of a burglary, but, after a significant effort managed to retrieve a significant portion of his collection. 

“On February 5th 1999, my daughter called me at work and told me that upon coming home from school she had discovered that someone had broken into our home.  Also, she said, the burglar had broken into the locked room where I stored my guns.  I was stricken.  As I work only a short distance from where I live, I was home within minutes. We immediately called the sheriff and a deputy responded promptly. A preliminary investigation showed that the thieves had pried open the back door and smashed in the hollow cored wooden door to the gun room, which was a converted pantry. The deputy on the scene conducted, what appeared to my layman’s eyes,  an appropriate investigation. The toll was significant:  The thief or thieves had stolen my entire handgun collection consisting of eighteen guns.  Interestingly, left untouched were more than thirty rifles, mostly bolt action military surplus weapons.  I was devastated and my daughter was distraught.

The local sheriff's office quickly ran cold on the case.  In the first few weeks after the break in communication from the sheriff's office dropped off and I got the distinct impression that they didn’t really expect to solve the case and that it wasn't a high priority for their department.  As required by both law and federal regulation governing Type 03 FAL's, I immediately reported the theft to the BATF.  I gave a complete report including descriptions and serial numbers. They said they would send me a printed form to fill out and that an agent from the local field office would investigate and contact me. This was at best misleading.  The form showed up several months later and an agent never showed up.

I was lucky.  About a month after the robbery a young man who had robbed a convenience store using a gun and was apprehended. The gun he was using was traced back to the break in at my house. The suspect quickly rolled over on friends and the net quickly dragged in nearly a dozen people involved in one way or another with the robbery at my house. Fifteen of the eighteen stolen guns were recovered, one was known to be in the river, and two were unaccounted for. The thieves had attempted to remove the serial numbers from fourteen of the fifteen guns recovered. The suspects were all young people between seventeen and twenty years old. One of the suspect had a casual social relationship with one of my children, his mother had also at one time been my wife's work supervisor, and he had been in my home a couple of times.

The victims of crime often believe they are victimized a second time when their crime is solved, and to some extent I feel this way. I believe that most of those involved in the case were at best indifferent to my needs. Certainly this was case for the lead detective, the deputy in charge of the property room, and my insurance company. Only one person seemed sensitive to my needs, and that was deputy county prosecutor in charge of prosecuting the criminal case. Fortunately he had the power to make a difference for me. He communicated with me on a regular and timely basis using e-mail, my preferred method of communication, and when I needed someone to make something happen he had the power to do it. He was particularly helpful in dealing with the BATF over the issue of re-serializing my guns. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that without his help I never would have gotten my guns back and I am truly grateful to him for all his help.

Most involved as I have suggested were rather callous to my needs but the insurance company deserves special recognition for their mercenary attitude. Before the guns were returned, they demanded $750.00 before they would release the guns to me.  This was in spite of the fact that my loss even with the recovery of  the guns, still far exceed what they had paid out to me. I considered that payment demand to be extortion but in the end I negotiated to pay half that amount to get the guns back.

I live on the fringe of a small town in a very rural area. Several of my neighbors are home during the day so I was little surprised that this robbery which must have taken between a half and a full hour to complete could have been carried out without some intervention. To prevent a recurrence I have added a large dog, a professionally monitored alarm system, and a thousand pound gun safe connected to a tear gas device.  I could still benefit from better locks on the doors of our home and a better door on the gun room. Still I feel a bit more secure though I don't believe there is anything that could make me feel one hundred percent secure anymore.

Three of the perpetrators received prison sentences of six years, three received jail time of less than a year, three were ordered to pay restitution but didn’t receive any jail time, and at least three of those who were involved in some way received no punishment whatsoever.  Neither BATF nor the US Attorney ever filed federal charges, despite the laws making firearms theft from a Federal Firearms Licensee a very serious crime.   I am not even certain if there was even any kind of federal investigation.  Still, on the balance, I believe justice was served. Clearly though,  this event has changed me forever. Beyond the help of the prosecutor,  the love and support of my friends in the gun community made all the difference to me. I really could not have gotten through the experience without it and to many of you I will be indebted forever.”

This Cruffler’s experience provides many lessons to the firearms collector community.  Among them:
  Simply put, if you want the police and prosecutors to do their jobs, you must do yours.  That means protecting your home against burglary in the first place, and if that fails, making sure that the law enforcement community knows that you are taking an active role and interest in the resolution of the matter.  Next month we'll take a closer look at home security.
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