- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 3, 2020

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Dozens of handguns and rifles were stolen this week from a gun shop in New Mexico’s largest city, prompting authorities to offer a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible, officials said Wednesday.

The heist at JCT Firearms took place early Monday and thieves made off with 115 handguns and 35 rifles in the most significant theft from a southwestern U.S. licensed firearms retailer so far this year, federal firearms authorities said.

“That’s a tremendous amount of firepower in the hands of criminals,” said Tom Mangas, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “This is a priority for us.”

The theft is being investigated by the bureau and Albuquerque police and there was no indication that the crime was related to a rash of recent break-ins in the city amid protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Mangas said.

Investigators have reached out to other law enforcement agencies throughout the region and will be on the lookout for any recoveries involving guns taken from the Albuquerque store. The serial numbers of the stolen firearms have been entered into a national database.

Guns stolen from licensed firearms retailers in New Mexico, Arizona and other border states are often taken across the border to Mexico, Mangas said.

The thieves in Monday’s burglary had a “level of sophistication” and cut the power to the building, disabling the store’s security and surveillance systems, Mangas said.

The gun shop days earlier had posted on a social media page that it had more than 1,000 guns in stock with more were arriving daily. The phone at the shop went unanswered Wednesday.

Federal authorities recently issued general guidance to firearms retailers nationwide about stepping up security, Mangas said.

The theft came as the city of Albuquerque and the police department have been trying to reduce gun violence. In March, Mayor Tim Keller proposed spending $75,000 for a gun-buy-back program this year. He said at the time that gun violence was one of the city’s biggest challenges and that easy access to stolen guns wasn’t helping.

More than 700 firearms were stolen from vehicles or during auto thefts in Albuquerque in 2018, officials have said. Another 500 firearms were stolen in city residential burglaries.

The $10,000 reward being offered in the JCT Firearms case is part of a larger national initiative in which the National Shooting Sports Foundation matches ATF rewards in cases of firearm thefts from federally licensed firearms retailers.

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