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Since 2018 there have been more than 6,000 guns reported stolen in burglaries, auto thefts and other crimes in and around Albuquerque. In that same period only 1,000 stolen guns have been recovered by police officers in the city.

As the number of guns stolen in Albuquerque wavered between 1,400 and 1,100 annually, the number of stolen guns recovered dropped from 266 in 2018 to 135 in 2021.

So far this year, according to the Albuquerque Police Department, 887 guns have been reported stolen and 172 stolen guns have been recovered.

Albuquerque police Lt. Ryan Nelson, with the Career Criminal Section, said stolen guns are “definitely used in violent crime” on the city’s streets.

Because of them being illegal by nature, he said, they are often passed around and it’s not rare for them to be used in separate crimes by multiple offenders.

“Stolen guns seem to change hands a lot more frequently,” Nelson said. “… They’ll trade it or hand it off to somebody else who may commit another crime.”

One of the larger commercial gun thefts happened in 2020 when thieves cut the alarms to a West Central gun store and broke in – making off with 115 pistols and 35 rifles. A $10,000 reward has been offered in the case, but it remains unsolved.

Some of the guns stolen over the years have been used in subsequent property and violent crimes, including robberies, carjackings, shootings and homicides.

Often people selling large quantities of drugs are found with stolen guns and, in some instances, are known to trade drugs for stolen guns.

Earlier this year, according to Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies, a man fatally shot another man and stole his gun before using the stolen gun to kill another man – also stealing his gun – over a month later.

Purported gun thefts by youths have also led to tragedies at Albuquerque schools in recent years.

In February a fight between West Mesa High School students over a stolen “ghost gun” ended when one teen allegedly fatally shot the other outside the school. Months earlier, a 13-year-old allegedly stole his father’s gun and brought it to Washington Middle School, where he fatally shot an eighth-grade classmate to death.

As stolen guns continue to seep into Albuquerque crime, Nelson said he expects ghost guns will become more prevalent. The weapons are made using 3D printers and assembled from parts ordered online, they are devoid of serial numbers and difficult to trace.

Nelson said Albuquerque police have already come across 3D-printed switches that make a pistol into a machine gun. They are being sold on social media and found in the streets.

“They are coming this way,” he said, “and we will be dealing with manufactured guns like that.”