Gun thieves used a stolen car to ram apart the doors of a Parkville gun shop early yesterday -- a tactic that has been used in a score of other gun shop burglaries in Maryland and Virginia, according to federal authorities.
The robbery took about four minutes, according to the shop's owner. The thieves rammed the doors of Valley Gun Shop with a 1989 Buick LeSabre stolen earlier from a Towson apartment complex, took 14 handguns and fled in a late-model Nissan hatchback.
Special Agent Emmett B. Masterson, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said there have been about 20 similar robberies between Baltimore and Richmond, Va.
He said the availability of firearms has apparently diminished to the point where thieves are willing to accept the risks in ramming their way through the front of a gun shop. "It's a sign the weapons are getting hard to obtain," Agent Masterson said. "The problem is, you can't stop them [the burglaries]."
The 14 handguns taken during yesterday's burglary are "probably already on the street," he added.
Mel Abrams, owner of the gun shop in the 7700 block of Harford Road, said the thieves escaped with 14 used pistols -- mostly .22-, .25-, .32- or .38-caliber weapons -- that were in display cases at the front of the store.
Most of the store's high-powered weapons are in cases at the rear of the store. The thieves apparently did not have enough time to go for those guns, he said. "If they had done that, they would have gotten caught," Mr. Abrams said. "The police response was absolutely fantastic. The alarm went off at 4:44 and the police had the building surrounded by 4:48."
Mr. Abrams said the store is protected by an alarm system and steel grating and doors, making it "almost impossible" to burglarize.
He also said the thieves would not have been able to ram the building if he had been allowed to install steel poles in front of it. He had planned to do so after hearing about similar break-ins, but Baltimore County and state officials asked him to wait until improvements to Harford Road were completed.
About a year ago, thieves used a stolen car to ram the front of Walter's Gun Chamber in the 8200 block of Harford Road, five blocks from the Valley Gun Shop, and took 17 handguns, rifles and shotguns, said Sgt. Stephen R. Doarnberger, a county police spokesman.
Mr. Abrams said he was concerned that the rash of gun shop robberies would spawn more gun-control legislation. "They keep hanging the problem on us [gun shop owners]," he said. "But what they need to do is make the penalties harder for the criminals. We all know most of the stolen guns are going to drug dealers. Drop all the plea-bargaining and send them to prison when they are caught."
Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, used yesterday's robbery to tout federal legislation she is drafting to deter gun shop robberies. As explained by Mrs. Bentley and one of her aides, the proposed bill would require gun shop owners to remove firing pins from weapons. Without firing pins, guns are inoperable. The bill would also require shop owners to keep the firing pins locked away and to insert them only a customer wanted to test a weapon or buy it.
Mr. Abrams, who is a member of the board of directors of the Maryland Licensed Firearms Association, reacted angrily to the congresswoman's proposal. He described it as "harassment" and said that it would be burdensome and time consuming and that smaller shops would be forced to hire a gunsmith to remove or re-insert firing pins.
Upon hearing his reaction, Mrs. Bentley said she would hold off introducing the bill until she could meet with gun shop owners and police. "We're going to see if there's any form of it that will be feasible," she said.