Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives officials say 502 guns have been stolen from 26 federal firearms licensed dealers in Orlando and Tampa already this year.
Dave Brown, the assistant special agent in charge of the Tampa ATF field division, which includes the Orlando area, said burglaries at gun stores are on the rise across Central Florida.
In November, Tampa Arms was burglarized when a stolen truck rammed through the front wall and as many as a dozen men cleaned out the cases and removed the guns hanging from the wall. Forty rifles and handguns were stolen.
During Hurricane Matthew, 79 weapons were stolen from a Port Orange gun store and 41 guns were taken from a Flagler County gun shop.
Brown urged gun store owners to use safes, vaults and locks to secure weapons or just remove guns from walls and cases overnight.
"I sometimes feel like if the licensee took the extra step and locked them up in a safe, it'd be much harder for them to steal them," Brown said.
Brown said he's not exactly sure why gun store owners don't take that extra precaution.
"I can't answer that question entirely, but there are no regulations that require them to do that," Brown said. "I would think expense would be a factor. Time would be another factor."
Brown said the ATF is seeing stolen guns used in crimes around Central Florida.
Last week, Polk County sheriff's deputies arrested two teenagers in connection with the shooting and killing of an innocent mother parked at a Pine Hills Citgo. Kendra Lewis was sitting in her car with her 5-year-old daughter when she was caught in the crossfire, shot in the face, officials said.
Investigators said a gun found in the teenagers' car was one of the 40 stolen from Tampa Arms in late November.
"It is a problem and that's why we put a high level of importance on this, because the last thing we want to find out is that a store is burglarized and then that firearm is used to harm somebody," Brown said. "It is happening and that's why we aggressively pursue these investigations."
Brown called Orlando an international market. He said stolen guns are sold to those who cannot purchase guns legally themselves, and are often shipped out of state and out of the country because they command big bucks.
"If, for example, they were shipped to Puerto Rico, they would get three, four, five times the amount of money they'd get in the States," Brown said.
Brown said Florida is No. 1 in the United States for handgun sales. Florida is No. 2 in overall firearm sales behind Texas.
"First, my sympathy goes out to these families, because it saddens me to hear anytime someone is shot and killed with a firearm," Brown said. "I'll tell the public we are aggressively pursuing leads related to the burglaries and any other federal firearms violations."
A special agent assigned to respond to gun store burglaries, who did not want to be identified, told News 6 that a quick response time is critical.
"Sometimes there's a buyer identified even before the theft," said the agent. "Within 45 minutes to a couple of hours, those firearms have sold."
The agent said he recently broke up a gun-dealing ring that involved women legally purchasing weapons for men who could not make the purchase because of their criminal histories.
"My partner and I traveled out of state several times to talk to the relatives and eventually identified up to 20 individuals," the agent said. Those individuals "utilized those particular firearms to commit acts of violence, shootings, armed robbery and murder."
Brown said he believes the ATF is getting results for the community.
"I think we're getting results, absolutely. We work very hard, we recommend people for federal prosecution every single day," Brown said. "So I think we are getting results. But we live in a state that sells a lot of guns."