Gun store owner James Hillin was fed up. After thieves carefully cut out a glass window and sawed through metal bars during a break-in earlier this month — the store's 13th burglary in five years &mash; Hillin asked two employees to stay overnight at the west Houston shop, Full Armor Firearms. "It's just constant," he said of the gun thefts, which federal officials say have increased in the area. "They'll scout you and hit you." Shortly after midnight Tuesday, Hillin said, one of the employees looked up from the computer where he was watching YouTube videos to pass the time. He noticed two sedans pull into the store's front parking lot. The man alerted his coworker. They grabbed weapons, including an AR-15 carbine, and poked their heads out the door. They saw about five men near the employee's vehicles. One of the men shot at the employees, one worker told police. The employees escaped injury and returned fire as several of the suspects jumped into one of the cars and fled. "At this time, it's still an active investigation to determine what if any charges will be filed," Cannon said. However, police found that the man detained with a pistol was a felon. That man, identified as Darrien Vandrell Sams, was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon. Harris County court records show in 2010 the 24-year-old Brookshire resident pleaded guilty to a lesser charge after prosecutors alleged he knocked a senior citizen out of his walker and stole his TV, jewelry and cash. Sams was sentenced to 13 months in state jail. In 2011, he was convicted of home burglary in Waller County and sentenced to 2 years. In 2013, he pleaded guilty to burglary of a building and was sentenced to 8 months. Prosecutors likely will ask a grand jury to decide whether charges are merited in the case of the employee who fired at the fleeing men, Cannon said, as is standard when someone contends they used a weapon to defend life or property. Hillin lauded his workers for catching the armed men. Inside the car left behind at the scene, police found several pairs of new tennis shoes and a cache of electronics. "They weren't there because they were nice guys," Hillin said. "They were there to hurt people. And that's why my guys are heroes. How many people did they save?" The store owner declined to identify his employees, partly out of fear of possible retaliation. Houston is among the areas experiencing an increase in gun-shop thefts, according to local officials with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. In 2015, the most recent year with available data, Texas led the nation in reports of firearms stolen from gun sellers, edging out Florida and Georgia with 725 guns taken in 113 separate burglaries, thefts or robberies. Those numbers represent a small increase over 2014, which itself saw a 14 percent jump over 2013. Ryan Taylor, an ATF group supervisor, attributed the robberies to small local networks, not drug cartels or large-scale organized crime. Criminals can sell their loot easily and make a quick profit in the area's thriving black market for weapons, at times hawking the stolen goods on social media. Whenever ATF agents interact with licensed dealers, special agent Nicole Strong said, they hand out a booklet that details how to track inventory, report thefts and losses, and improve security. Suggested measures include alarm systems and panic buttons, steel mesh embedded in exterior walls, and shatterproof display cases. Hillin said he goes "above and beyond" government requirements by putting weapons in a vault every night, which the ATF booklet describes as the "best business practice." Even so, thieves cost him thousands of dollars of damage when they broke windows, cut bars and wreaked havoc inside the shop. Then there's the cost of the surveillance cameras, motion sensors and extra employee shifts.
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