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Locked or looted: Littleton passes new law forcing gun store owners to lock-up inventory after-hours

Off-target or bullseye? Experts/victims fire away
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Posted at 4:44 PM, Feb 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-27 01:05:29-05

LITTLETON, Colo. — Frustrated with increasingly brazen smash-and-grab gun shop burglaries, the City of Littleton has said enough’s enough.

Littleton is the first city in Colorado to pass an ordinance requiring gun shop owners to lock up their inventory after-hours.

The new ordinance is set to take effect this coming summer, but while some say city council hit the bullseye, others argue they are way off target.

“It would be hard to believe that a city would want to put a business out of business,” said Giovanni Galeano, owner of Old Steel Historical Firearms in Littleton.

“The actual gun itself is a fascinating example of this era of firearm technology,” said Sean Steele, general manager of Old Steel, as he showed us a vintage firearm dating back to the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

The vintage collection at Old Steel features some extraordinary firearms.

“This one is over 120 years old,” Steele said. “These were issued to the 7th Cavalry members. So, this would have been about two years old at the time of the battle, which would be the Battle of the Little Bighorn.”

And Galeano points out, his shop is a fortress of sorts.

“The building itself is a concrete building,” he said.

There are bars on the windows, a reinforced entry and even Humvees parked in the way of potential looters.

“There’s no way you can break into this building,” Galeano said.

Other shops can be easier targets.

Scores of gun shop smash-and-grabs involving a crowbar and a criminal can be found on surveillance videos posted all over the internet.

“It’s kind of bold, to break the glass,” said state Sen. Rhonda Fields, whose son was gunned down and murdered several years ago.

“These criminals, they quickly grab ten guns or 20 guns per case, throw them in a duffle bag. Then, next thing you know there’s 50-60 guns walking out the door, or running out the door,” said Littleton Chief of Police Doug Stephens.

Within hours those guns can end up on the black market.

“We don’t know whose hands those guns are going to be on,” Fields said.

At Triple J Armory in Littleton last summer, thieves got away with a total of 51 handguns and rifles.

“They got past the first line of defense, and in less than three minutes, they cleaned them out,” said Littleton city manager Mark Relph.

Denver7 reached out to Triple J Armory but they did not return our phone calls.

Because of the problem, Littleton City Council is taking a new tactic.

“I would support an ordinance that goes across the board, no exceptions,” councilwoman Kelly Milliman said.

For the victims, it seems reasonable.

“You know, like jewelry stores, they put away their products,” Sen. Fields said. “They should just lock it up. I’ll be scarred for the rest of my life. My son was shot down and murdered alongside his fiancé in 2005. And he was shot because he was going to be a witness in another crime.”

To her, Littleton’s ordinance seems to be a common-sense approach to curbing crime – lock it up or risk being looted.

“We don’t know who they’re selling these guns to,” Fields said.

But others argue it is government overreach.

“They’re trying to regulate something they have no idea about,” Steele said. “If you look at Nice, France — that guy ran over a whole crowd of people with the truck that he stole.”

While there are no federal mandates about safe inventory storage, at least four other states – Massachusetts, California, Connecticut and New York have some type of law on the books requiring firearms to be locked up.

“We’re probably the first city in the state of Colorado that has taken it this far,” Relph said. “We’re just trying to create something that, in the end, is safer for all of us.”

Some gun stores are locking things up even when they’re not required to.

Take Ortiz Custom Guns in Georgia, for example.

Using a stolen Toyota, a thief rams through their front door. The surveillance images are posted online. The suspect admitted to casing the store ahead of time and when he came back after hours - he knew exactly where to go. Or so he thought. He didn’t get away with a single firearm.

“Because all the guns are in safes,” said the owner, Pedro Ortiz.

Back at Old Steel in Littleton, you could argue this is more of a museum than gun shop, with an exceedingly rare collection.

“This nice of condition is near unheard of,” Steele said showcasing one of his firearms.

A collection that would take hours to lock in a safe every night.

“It would be physically almost impossible,” Galeano said.

He says Littleton must be willing to work with gun shop owners.

“I believe we have the safest shop in Colorado,” said Galeano.

Editor's Note: Denver7 360 stories explore multiple sides of the topics that matter most to Coloradans, bringing in different perspectives so you can make up your own mind about the issues. To comment on this or other 360 stories, email us at 360@TheDenverChannel.com. See more 360 stories here.