Dubuque police say false reports of gun thefts on the rise

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Dubuque police say they've handled fewer gun thefts over the past year. This goes against the national trend, showing the number of firearms stolen or lost in the last year increased by 80 percent.

A report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives shows the total number of weapons stolen or lost last year was more than 18,000.

But Iowa's data goes against that trend. It saw a 55 percent decrease. Going from 295 weapons lost or stolen in 2015 to 163 in 2016.

Dubuque police say, in 2016, gun owners reported 42 guns as stolen. But in many of those cases, police says the gun was never actually stolen.

"They purchase the gun from a friend or a girlfriend or a boyfriend or whatever that may be, and that girlfriend or boyfriend knows they weren't supposed to sell it to that person, so to wash their hands of it, they will try to report it as stolen," said Dubuque Police Investigator, Nick Schlosser.

Schlosser digs into Dubuque's biggest crimes. He says recently more people are selling or even giving their guns to people who aren't legally allowed to own one. In Iowa, those reasons include a severe mental health diagnosis or a violent crime conviction.

"Obviously if you're selling a gun to somebody who shouldn't have a gun, there's a reason they shouldn't have a gun. They may use it for something bad," said Schlosser.

Schlosser says in many of those falsely reported stolen gun cases, the alleged victim claims someone stole a gun from inside their vehicle. That's the place where police say people actually steal guns most often.

"I would not recommend locking it up in a car because obviously cars are easily accessible and we do get quite a few reports of where someone leaves a gun in a car," Schlosser.

Police say the majority of lawful gun owners would never give or sell a gun to someone who shouldn't have it. If a gun owner does make a false theft report, they could face serious misdemeanor charges. That could mean up to a year in jail.