ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) - For almost a year, St. Petersburg police said officers have warned people to lock their vehicles. Now, the agency is dealing with a spike in violent crime, and police say there may be a connection.
"We have a good suspicion that a number of these violent crimes, drive-by shootings and robberies that we're having involve firearms that are taken out of vehicles and also burglaries out of homes" spokesman Mike Puetz told FOX 13 News. "So far this year, we've had - in just auto burglaries alone- we've had 108 guns stolen."
Meanwhile, another 204 weapons were stolen in mostly residential burglaries.
The Pinellas Sheriffs Office has counted 252 stolen weapons, while Tampa police said it received reports on another 375.
"If you took the Tampa Bay area as a whole, you're probably talking about thousands of guns that are ending up in the hands of criminals that are using them on the street" Puetz said.
Doug Jackson of Bill Jackson's Shop for Adventure agreed with Puetz, "bottom line, if you have a gun, you're responsible for that gun, and you're responsible to keep it out of other people's hands."
Jackson demonstrated for FOX 13 News, a variety of ways to keep weapons safe from home burglars: from small, biometric lock boxes to large safes.
However, Jackson said he knew of no way to bridge the desire to keep a gun handy in a vehicle with the need to secure it.
"Rapid access means you can get to it quickly without any problem, and the same thing, somebody [else] can get to it rapidly too," he explained.
There are now more than one million Floridians licensed to carry concealed weapons and "with a concealed carry license, I can legally have a gun on the seat next to me with a T-shrt thrown on top of it- I'm legal" Jackson explained.
He said he would like to assume a responsible gun owner would not leave a gun unattended and Puetz agreed.
"Certainly we understand the right of everybody that wants to keep a gun in their car with them, can do so legally," Puetz said. "But they have to take the gun with them when they go back into their house."