There have been 26 incidences of guns being stolen from unlocked vehicles over the past year in Casper, and state lawmakers should take a hard look at making that a felony-level crime, the Casper police chief said.

During a press conference Thursday, Casper Police Department Chief Keith McPheeters told reporters that many firearm thefts in Wyoming are prosecuted as misdemeanors. Wyoming statutes "cripple" law enforcement agencies in addressing gun thefts.

Casper police last week seized several stolen firearms and a felony amount of cocaine as a result of a traffic stop last week.

Police arrested Montana residents Justen Kushner and Austin Taylor on Oct. 1. Kushner is facing two felonies including delivery of a controlled substance - methamphetamine, possessing a felony weight of cocaine and misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance.

Taylor was arrested on multiple misdemeanor charges along with felony drug charges.

McPheeters said the guns were stolen from unlocked vehicles. The police chief added that there have been 26 gun thefts from unlocked and unattended vehicles over the past year.

"Anytime a firearm is stolen, that's for no good lawful purpose," McPheeters said. "Those are going to be trafficked or they're going to be used in other crimes.

"We're asking our citizens to be responsible gun owners. If you have a firearm in your vehicle, please make sure your vehicle is secure."

McPheeters said the Casper Police Department will be holding anyone who is intent on stealing guns accountable.

Wyoming lawmakers should consider stiffening the penalties for people who steal firearms. Often, firearm thefts are merely prosecuted as misdemeanors, McPheeters said.

As Wyoming law currently stands, the value of a stolen item must be more than $1,000 for it to be prosecuted as felony theft.

"We're asking our legislators to continue to look at the needs of our communities, the needs of our citizens when it comes to protecting their public safety and property rights," McPheeters said. Considering the public safety aspects, McPheeters said, firearm theft needs to be treated as a significantly more serious crime.

"We're asking our legislators to take a serious look at making that a felony," McPheeters said.

According to an affidavit of probable cause, a Casper police officer was on patrol in the 400 Block of East A street when he saw a maroon Ford SUV stalled out and blocking both lanes of travel.

The officer spoke with the driver, identified as Taylor, and could smell marijuana coming from the vehicle. The officer also identified a juvenile, who turned out to be a runaway teenager, in the SUV.

Taylor and Kushner both told police they had pistols in their waistbands, the affidavit alleges.

When officers searched the SUV, they found individually wrapped packages containing a white powder that tested presumptively positive for cocaine. Police also found methamphetamine in a "stash can" inside the vehicle.

The cocaine allegedly weighed 23 grams in total, according to the affidavit.

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