© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kansas City police blame Missouri's lax gun laws for 19% climb in gun thefts from cars

Two women walk along the alley connecting Mill Street to Pennsylvania Avenue in Westport in August of 2020. The area is bounded by street parking and parking lots filled with cars belonging to visitors and workers in the entertainment district.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Two women walk along the alley connecting Mill Street to Pennsylvania Avenue in Westport in August 2020. Gun thefts in the Westport neighborhood jumped dramatically in June and account for 37% of the guns stolen in central Kansas City.

The vehicle theft hotspots are the city’s entertainment districts, and the number taken in Westport is “staggering,” police say.

Gun thefts from parked cars in Kansas City have increased 19% this year and police blame the relaxation of state gun laws.

In 2021, 613 guns were stolen from vehicles, compared with 498 in 2020, Capt. Sean Hutcheson said in a presentation to the Kansas City Police Board on Dec. 14. Police know the weapons are being used in crimes, he said.

“One of the drivers of our violence in Kansas City is easy access to guns,” Hutcheson said. “And since the early 2000s, a lot of our gun laws in the state have been relaxed. So people are more likely to be carrying guns and especially in their vehicles.”

The numbers reflect only the weapons that have been reported stolen, Hutcheson said.Just 11 states, not including Missouri, require gun owners to file a police report if a gun is lost or stolen.

“This is probably one of the greatest challenges to our city, by far,” Mayor Quinton Lucas said of the thefts. “It’s leading to violent crimes in Kansas City and points beyond a few other policy points that we should think of.”

Kansas City is among the top 10 cities in the U.S. with high rates of violent crime, according to FBI statistics. After a record 177 homicides last year, Kansas City has recorded 157 so far this year, according to Dec. 28 KCPD statistics.

Much of law enforcement has been critical of the Second Amendment Preservation Act, a state law that took effect in August. It levies a $50,000 fine on any state or local official who enforces a federal gun law that’s not also a Missouri law and declares federal laws that infringe on the Second Amendment as invalid in Missouri. The U.S. Department of Justice has declared the law "legally invalid."

The hotspots for vehicle thefts are the city’s entertainment districts, Hutcheson said, including Westport, the Power & Light District, the Crossroads District and the 18th & Vine District.

Lucas said the Kansas City Council may need to work with private lot owners to increase lighting and video cameras, or the bars and restaurants may need to work out staggered closing times.

“Having everybody feed out at 3 a.m., I think, helps contribute to some of the criminal activity, the lawlessness that we see there over time,” Lucas said. “I know that's taking money out of some people's pockets, but it takes a lot of money out of people's pockets if half the region is scared to go down there on a Friday or Saturday night.”

Cathy Dean, a police board commissioner, said she’s seen videotape showing patrons trying to get into bars being caught by metal detectors revealing a weapon. The patron is then told to put their gun back in their car. That’s when the thieves strike, she said.

Hutcheson said groups are hitting 20 to 30 cars at a time, looking only for weapons.

“We have video. One person will just go and just pop windows and the guy behind him is going opening the door, checking the seat, the glove box, that’s it. These guns are unsecured in these vehicles,” he said.

So far, police have arrested two people facing state charges of felony possession and possession of stolen property, Hutcheson said. Four people are in federal custody on similar charges, he said.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.