Three men rammed a stolen car into the front doors of a well-known Parkville gun shop early today and stole about 15 handguns before fleeing in another vehicle, Baltimore County police said.
A witness reported seeing a 1989 Buick LeSabre jump a curb and slam into the Valley Gun Shop, in the 7700 block of Harford Road, about 4:45 a.m., Officer Robert Stelmack said. Another witness saw some of the activity, too, the officer said.
Within minutes, the men broke six glass display cases, stole small-and large-caliber handguns, and fled in a late-model Nissan hatchback, Officer Stelmack said.
The car used in today's break-in, which had been stolen from a Towson apartment complex sometime after 1:30 a.m., did not penetrate the gun shop, according to police and Melvin Abrams, the shop's owner.
"They didn't get the doors open," Mr. Abrams said. The front doors, which are constructed of metal bars and glass, broke in half and were forced ajar, he said. The thieves had to kick in a steel grate to get in the shop, he added.
"Our building is very secure," said Mr. Abrams, adding that he's done about everything that can be done to deter burglars. Some people can't be stopped, he said.
"If they want to get in, you can stand on your ear and you can't stop them."
He said he had been planning to install a barrier consisting of steel pipes sunk in the ground in front of his store to keep people from trying to ram the building with a car. "I'm going to go ahead and do it now," he said.
Mr. Abrams said someone attempted a similar break-in several years ago with a Toyota. The car was too small and they came in head-on, he said, so they failed.
This time, the burglars came at an angle and used a much larger car.
Using information provided by the witnesses, police were looking for three black males, all between 18 and 20 years old. The men are between 5 feet, 7 inches and 5 feet, 9 inches. One was wearing a black knit cap, Officer Stelmack said.
Police also were alerting hospitals in the region to be on the lookout for someone seeking treatment for severe cuts, because a large amount of blood was found on and around the broken display cases.
Agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were helping Baltimore County police compile an inventory of the stolen weapons, said Tom Bucher, a special agent in the bureau's Baltimore office.
"This is the first time we've ever been hit before," Mr. Abrams said, as he was attempting to clean up the broken glass and other debris.
Despite the mess, Mr. Abrams was open for business at 9 a.m. today. He said his shop, which has been at the Parkville location for 15 years and in Towson before that, had the most extensive collection of modern and antique firearms in Maryland.
The break-in may have been a first in the 42 years of operation for Valley Gun Shop, but it was another in a string of gun thefts in recent months that has alarmed authorities.
More than 60 robberies have occurred at gun shops in Maryland and Virginia in the past 18 months, according to federal agents. And more than 1,200 firearms have been stolen, the agents say. By the end of 1991, only 10 percent of the guns had been recovered.
Unlike today's break-in, many of the shops have been hit when employees were present, sometimes with fatal results.
While police today were checking to see if the Parkville break-in could be connected to other gun thefts in the region, officials could only speculate about what the thieves intended to do with the stolen guns.
The resale value of guns on the street is so high that the thieves may simply be trying to make some quick money, said Sgt. Stephen Doarnberger, a spokesman for Baltimore County police.
"I'm told that you can get more for a gun on the street than you can in the stores," he said. That's partly because a buyer wouldn't have to go through police checks and meet other regulations, he said.
In October, two elderly women who owned a gun shop in Havre de Grace were fatally shot by someone who robbed their store of several handguns and money. A grand jury this week indicted Kenneth Brodt, 19, of Creswell in Harford County, on two counts of first-degree murder in the slayings.
Killed in the Oct. 18 robbery were Bessie Mitchell, 70, of Havre de Grace and Emily Hamby, 75, of Aberdeen.
Brodt also was indicted on two counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon, two counts of weapons violations and one count of theft. Joseph I. Cassilly, the Harford state's attorney, said yesterday he would seek the death penalty against Brodt.
Relatives of the elderly women had operated the shop, called the Sportsman's Center, for two decades. State police say they have recovered some of the weapons taken during the robbery.
In September, the owner of a gun shop in the 7800 block of Belair Road in Baltimore was killed by one of two gunmen who robbed his store of a large quantity of weapons. A customer was wounded.
Several men were eventually captured and charged with various crimes stemming from that incident.
Sgt. Doarnberger, the Baltimore County police spokesman, said there had been four gun shop break-ins or robberies in the county in the past two years.
One, on Feb. 23, 1991, was similar to today's break-in. Burglars stole guns by driving a car into the front doors of Walter's Gun Chamber in the 8200 block of Harford Road.
Two arrests were made in the case, Sgt. Doarnberger said, but further information was not available.