The Wichita Police Department is emphasizing gun safety education to reduce the rising number of gun thefts happening throughout the community.
The department launched the annual Project ChildSafe program this week to promote responsible firearms ownership and secure storage of guns when not in use. The nonprofit program is sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
Wichita police say proper firearm storage is needed to help deter gun theft, accidents and misuse. Lt. Scott Brunow tracks car break-ins and the items stolen. He says these larcenies are up 19 percent compared to this same time last year.
Just two weeks into June, Brunow says thieves have broken into 241 vehicles and stolen 47 purses/wallets and 13 guns.
So far in 2019, Brunow says 106 guns have been stolen from cars. At this pace, he expects more than 200 guns will be in the hands of criminals by the end of the year.
That’s why the department is refocusing attention on secure gun storage options like a lock box, cable lock or firearm safe. Police recommend storing firearms unloaded.
“There’s a lot of different types of crimes that are happening because of firearms that have not been stored safely,” says Lt. Kevin Kochenderfer, a firearms instructor at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Law Enforcement Training Center.
Police say three teens used a stolen handgun to rob a gas station/convenience store in Maize last month. Stolen guns were used in several other crimes in the last year, including two incidents involving law enforcement officers.
“Over the past 12 months a Sedgwick County Deputy was shot and killed by a suspect with a stolen gun, and an off-duty WPD officer was shot and injured by a burglar who had a stolen gun,” Chief Gordon Ramsay said in a news release. “Responsible gun ownership is pivotal in helping keep our community safe.”
Kochenderfer says Wichita Police has been a longstanding community partner with Project ChildSafe. The program encourages firearms safety through the distribution of safety education messages and free firearm safety kits.
“We not only educate gun owners about the various options that they have for securely storing guns when not in use," says Bill Brassard, director of Project ChildSafe, "but we encourage parents to talk with their children about gun safety on a regular basis."
The firearm safety kits include a free cable gun lock. Wichita police plan to distribute 250 gun locks, and will provide more as needed. Officers demonstrated how to use the device at a news conference Monday.
“We’re trying to push [secure gun storage] harder this year because of the spike that we are seeing in the thefts [is] becoming more prevalent,” says Kochenderfer.
He says preventing home accidents involving guns is also a priority. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 78 kids, teens and young adults are injured or killed by guns each day in the U.S.