It was like a how-to seminar to deter thieves, except the dozens of crowd members who packed the auditorium were gun store owners, who are always within reach of a weapon.

The owners listened to tips from federal agents on how they should keep their display cases locked, their alarm systems armed and their surveillance cameras prepared. They were reminded to resist after-hours sales and to install concrete barriers to deter smash-and-grab thieves.

“We want to partner with you,” said Bob Wood, an industry operations investigator for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “You are the front lines.”

Gun stores are a daring target for thieves, but they still get robbed with regularity. It’s been a particularly frustrating problem in Georgia, which has ranked among the top three states for the thefts involving licensed firearms dealers between 2005 and 2009.

ATF agents, who count thefts of licensed firearms dealers as one of the biggest sources of illegal guns, have launched an aggressive effort to crack down on gun store thefts with the seminars, open letters and other outreach to gun store owners with tips on, say, where to position their video cameras.

It has paid off with declining number of burglaries, larcenies and robberies that hit licensed gun sellers each year. Such thefts have dropped by almost 15 percent from 2006 to 2009, according to federal data. In Georgia, the number of guns stolen from licensed dealers plummeted from 649 in 2006 to 343 in 2009.

But authorities still have work to do. On Wednesday, the ATF announced a $5,000 reward for information resulting in convictions of thieves who struck a Claxton, Ga., pharmacy in June. The suspects smashed the store’s front glass door with a metal barrel, and stole 26 handguns and an AK-47 style rifle.

Much of the training centers on enforcing federal law that requires the dealers to notify the ATF within 48 hours of a theft. That way they can deploy agents to each robbery to do some digging of their own to crack increasingly complex cases.

Source: Greg Bluestein for Businessweek.

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