Frustrated after years of burglaries from local gun stores — and by security measures at one gun store that has been the target of repeat break-ins — Littleton City Council unanimously approved what appears to be Colorado's first law requiring firearm dealers to lock up their guns after business hours.
Effective Aug. 1, all gun retailers within city limits are required to obtain a city-issued license showing approval of a “safe storage plan,” which mandates all firearms must be stored in a locked safe, gun cabinet or secured safe room after business hours.
The law, approved at the Feb. 2 city council meeting, also requires licensees to utilize a burglar alarm that sends reports directly to Littleton Police rather than a store owner or manager. The license must be renewed annually.
The law comes after 10 gun store burglaries at five retailers in city limits in the last four years, according to city documents, which collectively resulted in the theft of 144 firearms. Stolen guns often wind up used in other crimes, according to Littleton Police.
“This is due to the simple fact that (guns) aren't locked up,” City Attorney Reid Betzing told council. “Sure, they're in a secured building, but if you breach that building, the ability to come in and clean out firearm retailers is a matter of minutes.”
An analysis of gun store burglaries showed nearly every gun stolen from a retailer in Littleton was unsecured after hours, according to city documents, whereas two burglaries of retailers with secured guns resulted in none stolen. Almost all the burglaries were “smash-and-grab” cases, in which multiple perpetrators breached a window or outer wall, collected numerous guns and fled quickly.
The final straw
The final straw for city officials, Betzing told Colorado Community Media, was a June 30 burglary of Triple J Armory, a south Littleton gun store, where thieves made off with 50 guns in under three minutes.
The burglary was the third completed break-in for the family-owned gun store, which moved to the SouthPark neighborhood in 2018 amid a swirl of controversy — including concerns by neighbors that it would be a target for criminals after two completed and one attempted break-ins at its prior location off County Line Road.\
Of the 144 guns taken from Littleton gun stores since the beginning of 2016, 92 of them — nearly two-thirds of the total — were taken from Triple J. Thieves made off with two machine guns during the burglary, Stephens said, one of which was later recovered when suspects were arrested in the case.
Littleton Police Chief Doug Stephens told council he was concerned that Triple J had not taken greater precautions to secure its firearms.
“If those guns had been in gun safes like in people's houses, that burglary would not have occurred,” Stephens told council.
Triple J co-owner J.D. Murphree did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.
Residents of the Highline Crossing cohousing community, which sits across the street from Triple J, wrote numerous emails to council in support of the ordinance. In 2018, much of the opposition to Triple J's new location — and its associated shooting range — came from Highline Crossing.
“This retailer claimed it would be safe to have firearms used and sold in this area, and that burglaries are uncommon when they established their business,” one neighbor wrote to council. “We have since seen evidence that this is not so.”
Council first discussed the proposed ordinance last September, in response to community concerns following the latest Triple J burglary.
“Criminals case these establishments,” Stephens told council in September. “They're looking for specific inventory and how it's secured. They're gathering intelligence. Burglars knew they could get in and out of this last one very quickly, and they did so.”
Councilmember Carol Fey, who represents the district where Triple J is located, said she was disappointed in the store, saying owners had promised her greater security measures would be in place.
“I feel really betrayed by these owners,” Fey said in September.
Councilmember Kelly Milliman said she was appalled by the store's security.
“It's one thing if a jewelry store gets broken into and gold gets stolen,” Milliman said in September. “These are weapons that are used to harm or kill other human beings, and it's disgusting they couldn't be a more responsible business owner in our community.”
'An issue of liability'
Littleton has three other gun retailers. Two of them are pawn shops — one on Broadway and the other on Littleton Boulevard — and the third is Old Steel Historical Firearms on Rapp Street near downtown. Two other firearms retailers went out of business in recent years: one was a pawn shop and the other was Warhorse Firearms, itself the target of repeat burglaries.
Mayor Jerry Valdes and Chief Stephens visited all the city's gun retailers to discuss security and the proposed gun-storage measure in recent weeks, Valdes told council.
Old Steel owner Giovanni Galeano called into the Feb. 2 council meeting to say he wasn't sure how he was supposed to lock up his entire inventory — consisting mainly of vintage and antique weapons, some non-functioning — every night.
“I don't see that happening, and that's a fact,” Galeano told council, adding that he felt his concrete building, blockaded by several large military vehicles in front, was secure on its own.
Stephens told Galeano he would be willing to do a “more in-depth site survey” and could foresee working on an exception for non-functioning or replica weapons.
The new law will have little effect on Broadway Jewelry & Pawn, a pawn shop that sells firearms at Broadway and Powers Avenue, said owner Jonathon Krabbe.
“We've always locked ours up, and they're even secured during business hours,” Krabbe told Colorado Community Media, saying he follows recommended security guidelines from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “For us smaller guys, it's an issue of liability. The time it takes to lock them up is not as big a liability as having the guns out there on the street.”
A representative of Pawn Bank on Littleton Boulevard declined comment on the law.
The law requiring gun dealers to secure firearms after hours appears to be Colorado's first, Betzing told Colorado Community Media, and one of very few in the country. He said he based the ordinance's language on similar laws in Illinois and Minnesota, as well as suggested security measures in guidance documents published by the FBI and ATF.
Previously, the only city-level requirement a gun dealer needed in Littleton was a standard business license, Betzing said.
All gun dealers must obtain a Federal Firearms License (FFL), which is issued by the ATF, said Matthew Deasaro, a spokesperson for the agency's Denver field division.
But while the ATF offers guidelines for store security, FFL holders are not required to abide by any particular safe storage measures, Deasaro said. Most requirements for an FFL concern such things as record-keeping about acquisitions, sales and background checks on buyers.
The ATF investigates all burglaries from FFL holders, Deasaro said.
“Investigating those incidents is one of ATF's top priorities,” he said. “Stolen firearms can end up involved in trafficking and violent crimes. There are other victims too: the businesses themselves. Sometimes individuals in the businesses are injured or killed during those burglaries or robberies.”
Deasaro declined to comment on the specifics of Littleton's new law, saying the ATF respects the laws of local jurisdictions.
Colorado had 56 reports of theft or loss of firearms from FFL holders in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available, according to ATF documents. There were 49 in 2018, 71 in 2017 — a spike caused by a statewide rash of smash-and-grab burglaries that ended after multiple arrests — 49 in 2016, 47 in 2015 and 40 in 2014.
Colorado does not mandate any particular state-level licensing for gun dealers, according to a spokesperson for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Mayor Jerry Valdes told council he was hopeful the new ordinance would make a difference.
“To the city attorney and chief of police, thank you very much for what you've come up with,” Valdes told Betzing and Stephens at the Feb. 2 meeting. “It's definitely for the safety of our citizens. Thank you very much for coming up with something that is a very reasonable plan to do.”