THIEVES in the south-west are using stolen firearms as a commodity and trading them in Melbourne and interstate for cash and drugs.
In response to a rising incidence of firearm thefts police will target south-west gun owners to ensure their weapons are securely stored.
Police investigation and response manager for the south-west, Mark Canavan, said thieves were targeting homes and properties where firearms were known to be stored. A police check of licensed firearm holders earlier this year found many provided only the lowest level of security required.
In the past fortnight five firearms were stolen from a Hamilton sports store and thieves also attempted to break into a Warrnambool diving shop in what police believe was an attempt to steal guns.
Detective Senior Sergeant Canavan said the increase in thefts around the south-west coincided with the launch of Operation Unification, during which police across Australia will join forces for a two-week blitz on illegal firearms.
He said past investigations showed some firearms were being kept by offenders but others were being sold on for cash and drugs.
He said arrests had been made and police had recovered some of stolen firearms locally, but others had turned up in Melbourne and South Australia and the majority were still missing. “This reinforces that they are a commodity which are being trafficked among the criminal element,” he said.
“This affects the whole of the south-west. The purpose of the operation is to take firearms out of the hands of criminals.”
Detective Senior Sergeant Canavan said all owners had a responsibility to eliminate the risk of firearms being stolen by ensuring they were properly stored.
“We want information from the public. This is about getting firearms off the street.”
District firearms officers ran a firearms security audit earlier this year, visiting licensed firearms holders to check on their level of security and compliance.
Detective Senior Sergeant Canavan said despite the compliance levels being adequate to meet legislative requirements, it was disappointing that in some cases security was at the lowest level and did little to deter criminals.
“Some are just not doing enough to prevent firearms falling in the wrong hands,” he said.
Operation Unification is a nationwide crackdown, supported by Crime Stoppers and led by the Australia New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency Crime Forum. It will run until June 7, 2013.
In Victoria during 2011/12, firearms were used in 18 homicides, 197 robberies and 275 assaults.
This was a 14.5 per cent increase in total crimes involving a firearm against a person.