ST. LOUIS — It’s a trend federal officials say is getting worse: criminals are using stolen cars to break into gun stores.
Federal officials are seeing a spike in break-ins, believing the same group of criminals are to blame.
“But what's unique about these is that our suspects are stealing cars and then using those cars as the entry method into the building," said John Ham, a spokesperson with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Ham said he's never seen this type of crime to this extent in his 21-year career.
“Statistically, these guns have a very good chance of being used in crime. And we want to make sure that doesn't happen," he said.
His agency is upping the reward to $10,000 for tips that help get suspects off the street.
Over the last month, he said more than 50 firearms have been stolen from gun shops around St. Louis. At these six stores, ATF officials say criminals used cars to break inside:
1. Metro Shooting Supplies (11434 St Charles Rock Rd, Bridgeton, MO 63044)
2. Michaels Arms & Accessories (439 S Buchanan St, Edwardsville, IL 62025)
3. Osage County Guns (13200 E Veterans Memorial Pkwy, Wright City, MO 63390)
4. Academy Sports + Outdoors (5214 I-70 North Outer Rd, St Peters, MO 63376)
5. Academy Sports + Outdoors (1574 W Hwy 50, O'Fallon, IL 62269)
6. Mid America Arms (8205 Gravois Road, St. Louis, MO 63123)
Steven King, owner of Metro Shooting Supplies in Bridgeton, is one of the latest victims.
“What vehicles do they use?” asked the I-Team's Paula Vasan.
“It was two Hyundais. So they used one as the battering ram and one is the getaway car. And unfortunately, both of them were stolen," said King.
In just a minute and 32 seconds, three suspects got away.
He said he's so concerned about a break-in happening again, he's parked his car out front as a barricade, and he's spending about $80,000 to install more steel poles, surveillance cameras, motion sensors, and other security. He and law enforcement officials say they’re most worried about the same types of cars causing destruction: stolen Hyundais and Kias.
The cars are targets because thieves are exploiting a weakness in the ignition of some models. And police say social media challenges on Tik Tok and YouTube are only egging them on.
“What's your message to Hyundai and Kia?” asked Vasan.
“I'd say step up the game and quit cutting corners, if that’s what you did," said King.
We asked the car companies what they’re doing about this problem. Starting October 1, Hyundai says customers can buy security kits. Kia tells us they’ll be offering wheel-lock devices for free to local law enforcement. But many business owners tell me they’re Band-Aid solutions to a problem that’s putting them at risk.
Anyone with information about the break-ins is asked to call the ATF at 1-800- 283-4867, send an email to ATFTips@atf.gov, contact the ATF through its website or by texting ATFKC to 63975.
Hyundai issued this statement in response to our request for comment:
“Hyundai Motor America is concerned about the recent rise in auto thefts of certain Hyundai model vehicles. While all of our vehicles meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, unfortunately, our vehicles have been targeted in a coordinated effort on social media. Criminals are targeting our vehicles without engine immobilizers. Immobilizers became standard on all vehicles produced after November 1, 2021. In order to assist customers with earlier model year vehicles without an immobilizer, Hyundai has been working with and will continue to support local police departments to make steering wheel locks available for affected Hyundai owners. Additionally, Hyundai has identified a Firstech / Compustar security kit that targets the method of entry thieves are using to access these vehicles. Beginning October 1, 2022, this security kit will be available for purchase and installation at Hyundai dealerships and Compustar authorized installers across the country. Hyundai will provide additional details soon, and customers who have questions can always contact the Hyundai Consumer Assistance Center at 800-633-5151.”
Source: Ira Gabriel, Hyundai Motor America spokesperson
Kia issued this statement in response to our request for comment:
“Kia America remains concerned about the increase in auto thefts of a subset of Kia vehicles. It is unfortunate that criminals are using social media to target vehicles without engine immobilizers in a coordinated effort. All of our vehicles meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. While no car can be made theft-proof, criminals are seeking vehicles solely equipped with a steel key and “turn-to-start” ignition system. The majority of Kia vehicles in the United States are equipped with a key fob and “push-button-to-start” system, making them more difficult to steal. All 2022 Kia models and trims have an immobilizer applied either at the beginning of the model year or as a running change. Kia America is working to provide steering wheel lock devices at no cost to law enforcement in affected areas to deter vandalism and theft. That effort will continue in close coordination with local police departments for distribution to concerned owners of Kia vehicles not originally equipped with an immobilizer. Kia customers with questions regarding their specific vehicle should contact the Consumer Assistance center directly at 1-800-333-4542(4Kia).”
Source: James Bell, Kia America spokesperson