Crimes in Austin in which a gun was brandished, used to threaten or fired is on the rise, and police have a theory about how many criminals are getting weapons: They are stealing them from legal gun owners.
Their idea is supported by new data the Austin Police Department has compiled and shared in an unprecedented, newly released report taking a deep dive into our city’s gun violence.
The 50-page report, complete with flashy graphics and maps, analyzes gun crime over the past five years by areas of the city and specific types of cases in which guns are used.
It has recommendations for police leaders about how to prevent and mitigate gun violence.
Police Chief Brian Manley says one of his biggest takeaways is that data show legal gun owners in Austin must do a better job of securing their firearms to help prevent crime.
“Being a state that has the right to carry, and with having laws that allow firearms in vehicles, that is both the challenge, but also an opportunity for the citizens to step forward and the community to work with us on the gun crime that is occurring,” Manley says. “That is by being responsible gun owners and ensuring your weapon is safely and securely stored.”
For years, Austin authorities have joined those of other departments nationally in using data to best understand where and how they should deploy officers, and that’s the purpose of Austin’s Crime Intelligence Analysis Unit report on guns.
“We try to use the limited resources we have on areas where they will have the greatest impact on keeping us safe,” Manley says. “It is important to have accurate data to plan our operations.”
Use of guns in the city’s most serious crimes — murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — rose from 631 in 2014 to 996 in 2018, a roughly 58% increase, according to the report.
Guns were used in 40% of the 32 homicides in 2014, 54% of the 23 homicides in 2015, 63% of the 32 homicides in 2016, 62% of the 32 homicides in 2017 and 52% of the 32 homicide cases in 2018.
“Given Austin’s low number of homicides, it takes only a few more gun murders to increase the percentage by a very large amount,” the analysis notes.
The uptick in gun offenses was particularly noteworthy among robberies, according to the study. In 2014, suspects used guns in 35% of the 873 robberies. By 2018, robberies involving guns had increased to 47% of the 1,021 that year.
Hot spots for gun crimes are also longstanding violent crime hot spots, including downtown and near Interstate 35 in Central Austin — locations, the report notes, “with greater population densities in either resident populations or with commuter populations who visit the area’s bars and clubs at night, on weekends or during special events.”
But the report notes that many gun thefts are happening away from those hot spots.
The analysis found that 4,241 firearms were listed as lost or stolen in the past five years, and that the number of such cases increased from 2014 to 2018. The increase in stolen or lost firearms was most common in Northwest and Southwest Austin.
“One theory to potentially explain this is that firearms were stolen in certain areas of Austin and used to commit crimes in other areas,” the report said. “At this time, we do not have the data to prove or disprove that theory.”
But Manley said the information is enough to remind Austin gun owners to use caution.
“A vehicle is not an appropriate place to store a weapon unless you are storing it in a secured manner,” Manley says. “Invest in a safe or a locking mechanism to ensure that someone who breaks into your vehicle will not have access to those weapons.”
In conclusion, the study’s authors said they hope the gun report will not only help with police officer deployment, but also foster a community conversation about gun violence in Austin: “Although more research and analysis is warranted, this report is the first step and sets the stage for more focused analysis and discussions that will lead to both short-term and long-term strategies and initiatives to make Austin the safest city in America.”
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