AUSTIN, Texas - On average, Central Texas Gunworks owner Michael Cargill says he transfers 8,300 firearms to customers each year. He often purchases weapons from other federal firearms licensees.
"Everything comes through a truck. So whether it's FedEx, UPS, USPS, you know, it's going to come by truck" Cargill explained. His store has had a handful of shipments stolen in transit - most recently in early January.
"We have a procedure. Everything is on camera. You know, from the time that the boxes moved from the truck to inside the building." Cargill added, "We opened up the gun cases and there were no guns." This time, he says things were different - he struggled to make a report with the Austin Police Department.
"You get sent to 3-1-1. 3-1-1 takes a report and then they contact. I guess the police department and a police officer is supposed to call you to fill out the report," Cargill said.
After several days without results, Cargill said he gave up on contacting the Austin Police Department. He contacted a police department in Kentucky where the firearms were shipped from. ATF Assistant Special Agent in Charge Robert Topper says that is an appropriate action - as it is on the person sending, not receiving firearms to generate a report.
"Those guns would be entered into the NCIC, which is our national crime database. That allows law enforcement to know when they've recovered a stolen firearm." Topper explained.
The database is only accessible to law enforcement. If an FFL like Cargill suspects a stolen weapon is brought into their store they have to contact police and have them run the serial number.
"Just like if a person walks to the gun store to buy a gun from us, I can verify their background check by the FBI. And I can also verify if their license to carry a handgun is valid. I should be able to do the same thing with a gun. I should be able to type the serial number of that gun into a website, and they should be able to tell me to proceed or deny." Cargill griped.
FOX 7 Austin spoke on the phone with Austin Police Sgt. William Flannery, head of the department’s organized crime and firearms unit.
"With our staffing shortages, a lot of those types of calls have been rerouted to 3-1-1 and they have gotten somewhat behind on some of those calls." he said.
Flannery explained that stolen firearms calls were previously routed through 9-1-1 and a patrol officer would be dispatched. That is no longer the case. In September, 9-1-1 stopped handling "non-emergency calls," meaning calls where a crime is no longer in process. 3-1-1 now takes those calls routing them to the appropriate agency. Flannery said he has heard of people waiting for 3-1-1 callbacks on stolen weapons for "like a week."
Austin’s Public Safety Commission met Monday night to discuss concerns over backlogs and long response times within the city’s 911 system, and proposed solutions to the problem.
Cargill said the Austin Police Department contacted him following a FOX 7 Austin inquiry regarding his case, but he explained he had already filed a police report in Kentucky.
From 2014 to 2018 more than 4,240 firearms were reported lost or stolen in Austin. "The data is astonishing," former Austin Police Chief Brian Manley told FOX 7 Austin in 2020. In the interview, Manley pinned the city’s rise in violent crime in part on stolen weapons.
"The last thing I want is to have one of my firearms used in a crime or used to kill someone. It's personal safety. That's one thing, but stolen, used illegally. That's a whole ‘nother story, and that would break me to my core." said Cargill.
Topper, stressed that gun thefts via mail are rare. He wants gun owners to know they are most commonly stolen from homes and vehicles. "There may be stickers or decals or things that you would put on your vehicle that would advertise that there might be a gun inside your car. So, that is just a red flag for our gun thieves or auto burglars to go in and open the door or try and break into the car to get those firearms in there." he advised.