HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As the 13 Investigates crew rounded a corner recently, they came face-to-face with the end of an undercover Houston police chase. Officers had just caught two suspected gun thieves. It was the latest pair accused in a dangerous and rising trend of 'gun juggings' in the city.
As he worked with his team, Houston Police Department Lt. Andy Granger suggested to ABC13's Ted Oberg, "This is a story you may want to look in to."
When we did, we found a 17% increase in guns stolen from cars in Houston this year compared to last.
Granger said the increase is driven, at least in part. by 'gun juggings.' That is when thieves watch a gun owner walk out of a range or gun store and follow them until the gun is left in a parked car. The thieves usually break a window and make off with the weapon.
It's what police say happened May 12 in northeast Houston when Michael Parker and Victor Gwinn, both 19-years-old, were arrested after a brief chase. Police said the pair stole two handguns.
"It's happening a lot more. We've seen gun thefts go up during the COVID (pandemic)," Granger said.
He suspects it's possibly due to a lack of other targets, as many retail locations thieves could target were closed and retail owners weren't making large bank deposits, which have been targets of similar crimes in the past.
In this case, Granger said, "(The suspects) were both documented gang members."
Police were nervous about where the guns would end up, saying "We can get these guns off the street because later they could be used in commission of violent crime."
HPD has been warning gun owners about the crime trend even before the pandemic. In a Facebook video on HPD's page, Sgt. Tracey Hicks said, "Criminals are out there targeting vehicles specifically for guns."
The department says more than 2,200 guns were stolen in Houston from cars last year. FBI statistics analyzed by the Center for American Progress show Texas leads the nation in gun thefts with 45,000 a year on average.
When 13 Investigates surveyed Houston killers in 2017, 63% of them said they used a stolen to gun to commit the murder they were convicted of.
Thom Bolsch, a former U.S. Secret Service Agent knows how serious the crime can be.
"It's very dangerous because now that gun that was legally owned by someone is on the street," he said.
Bolsch, who now owns Saddle River Range in Montgomery County routinely warns his customers about it and there are things owners can do, starting with those stickers advertising your favorite brand.
Both HPD and Bolsch say take them off. "You're advertising potentially to somebody who wants to steal your gun that there might be a gun in the car."
In addition to the safes, the ATF suggests gun owners should always have a photo of their guns and their serial numbers. It helps police investigate if its ever stolen.
More importantly, secure your gun anytime it's not with you.
"People have a lapse of judgement when it comes to storing guns in their car and think, 'well I am just going to lock my doors,'" Bolsch told 13 Investigates in front of a display of vehicle mounted gun safes. "As you know, the point of least resistance is a window."
RELATED VIDEO: Here are some ways for you to protect your guns
The two documented gang members and now accused gun thieves are facing charges of engaging in organized crime.
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