Unlocked and loaded: ‘Lock it down better,’ gun thief advises

Target 8

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Based on his experience smashing glass doors to get into Cabela’s and Barracks 616 in September 2017, Herbie Brewer has advice for gun shops.

“Lock it down better, metal bars through the windows,” said Brewer, whose crew of teenage thieves got away with 29 guns between the two heists.

Target 8 reached the now 18-year-old by phone in prison, where he’s serving six to 10 years.

The owner of Imperial Gunworx thought his high-profile location on the well-lit main street running through downtown Sparta was protection enough. But in July, different thieves smashed through his glass front door and a glass display case.

“They had bricks with them and it took 13 hits to break through that glass,” owner Mark Esterline said.

  • imperial gunworx break-in
  • imperial gunworx break-in
  • imperial gunworx break-in
  • imperial gunworx break-in

>>App users: See photos from the break-in scenes

They escaped with 18 handguns.

Police quickly arrested four suspects, one as young as 14, after finding a backpack filled with stolen guns in the city of Wyoming. The oldest, 24, is facing federal charges.

They’re also accused in the Armory Valentine gun theft in Kentwood the same day.

kentwood armory valentine break-in
The scene after a break-in at Armory Valentine in Kentwood. (July 14, 2019)

The owner of Imperial Gunworx has since installed accordion-like cages on his front windows — a look he doesn’t like — and a steel front door.

“Just to keep guns off the street, violence off the street,” the owner said.

He plans to install roll-down barriers on the front windows. Between the damage and new security, he said it’s costing him more than $10,000.

“You can’t just fool around when it comes to this type of stuff,” the owner said. “Break-ins and violence, it causes everyone headaches, whether it’s the police or me or just the community.”

(Story continues below)

>>Inside woodtv.com: Target 8 tracks where the guns ended up


“I think that’s what you have to do,” Kent County Sheriff Michelle Lajoye-Young said. “If you’re going to be in the business of dealing with firearms, you’re obligated to secure the firearms, first and foremost. You have to be good citizens in our community, and that’s part of being good citizens in our community.”

Police are frustrated that the federal government, which regulates gun dealers, doesn’t require better security.

“There should be rules dealing with firearms dealers that require them to secure it,” the sheriff said.

“All it would take are a lot of these gun stores to put their guns in vaults at night,” Grand Rapids Police Department Lt. Kristen Rogers said. “But that requires taking them off the displays and moving them.”

After the round of thefts in 2017, the Kent County Sheriff’s Department reached out to gun dealers with security advice: Lock away your guns in a secure room or safe.


Barracks 616 vowed to tighten security, installing a security gate to the front door that it said would keep out an armored vehicle.

“Our store, they were in a minute, but they got in and left with a large amount of handguns, which go into our community possibly and endanger everybody,” Barracks 616 general manager Gregg Glasco said at the time. “No one knows where these guns are.”

But earlier this summer, thieves hit Barracks 616 again, smashing through a different glass door.

shattered glass door to store
An Aug. 20, 2019 photo shows a shattered door at Barracks 616 in Cascade Township.

The sheriff wouldn’t talk about specific gun dealers, but said some didn’t take her department’s advice.

“I can’t answer why those tactics weren’t implemented,” she said. “I know it’s easier not to on a day-to-day basis. It’s easier not to secure those weapons because it takes extra efforts, it takes extra costs.”

Barracks 616 officials recently told Target 8 that they have increased security since the latest break-in, but they wouldn’t say how. In a Facebook post, Barracks said its security measures thwarted an attempted break-in in August.

Some of the other recently targeted gun shops say they’ve also beefed up security.

Thieves hit Repocast Auction House in Byron Center twice in late 2018, getting away with 35 guns. Police arrested seven suspects, including three 14-year-olds, and have recovered 11 stolen guns.

One of those guns turned up in the hands of a man shot during a shootout with another gunman late last year in Grand Rapids. The injured man recently pleaded guilty to a federal charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Now, thieves would have to get through two steel doors and two metal gates to reach Repocast’s guns.

Thieves have hit Long Range Archery and Firearms in Holland Township twice this year, making off with six handguns in July and two long guns, including an AR-15 rifle, on Sept. 9. In both cases, they smashed through the glass front door. Police haven’t recovered any of the weapons.

  • Long Range Archery and Firearms break-in
  • Long Range Archery and Firearms break-in
  • Long Range Archery and Firearms break-in

The owners told Target 8 they are taking the thefts seriously. They say they are spending thousands on security, including motion-detector floodlights in the parking lot, more and better surveillance cameras and break-resistant 3M film for windows and the glass door. They refuse to install bars in the front door because “we don’t want it to look like a fortress.”

At Cedar Springs Family Farm and Home, where thieves took 89 guns in November 2017, a spokesman said management has taken steps to protect their guns, but wouldn’t say what.

Most of those stolen guns are still out there.

In a statement to Target 8, Cabela’s refused to say what, if any, new measures the company has taken.

It also had no explanation, when asked by police, for why the store’s three motion detectors didn’t work during the September 2017 burglary. The store manager told police he had set the alarm just before midnight. The burglars broke in at 1:17 a.m., but it wasn’t discovered until workers arrived at 3:45 a.m.

The sheriff hopes all federally licensed firearms dealers — nearly 170 in Kent and Ottawa counties alone — will get the message:

“Without fail, if the weapons are not secured when the building is unattended, it will be a target,” the sheriff said.

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