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YORK COUNTY, NC (WBTV) -
Nearly 200,000 guns were stolen nationwide last year according to the National Crime Information Center and both of the Carolinas ranked high on the list of states with reported guns stolen or lost.
Many of those guns are later used in crimes according to law enforcement officials.
North Carolina ranks 5th in the nation for stolen guns and South Carolina isn't too far behind at 11th, according to that federal data.
York County Sheriff's Investigators gave WBTV a closer look at technology that can help solve crimes by linking evidence left at the scene.
Investigator Ray Barnwell says stolen guns are nothing new, but new technology recently added to the department is.
It's called a ballistics recovery water tank.
Investigators can now take a weapon used in a crime, fire it into the tank, safely collect the bullet or shell casings and match it to the evidence left behind at crime scene using a comparison microscope.
"In unknown shootings where we have shell casings or bullets, those can start to be matched," said Barnwell.
From November 19, 2011 to Tuesday, 413 Guns were reported stolen at the York County Sheriff's Office.
That may seem like quite a few collected, but according to Investigator Barnwell, many stolen guns go unaccounted for because of improper reporting by gun owners after the theft.
"We cannot track any stolen items, including guns, if we do not have the make, model and serial number," said Barnwell.
Barnwell recommends gun owners to keep track of the serial numbers of their firearm and even take pictures to help investigators find stolen weapons.
Another issue Barnwell says people run into, unknowingly, is buying stolen guns. If you don't take proper steps to transfer the weapon in your name, you can land in hot water.
"If that gun is stolen and in your possession, you are guilty under South Carolina law by being in possession of stolen goods," said Barnwell.
"The best thing to cover you is go to a gun store, fill out the proper paper work and have that transferred to you, legally," he continued.
Investigator Barnwell says even if you're buying a gun secondhand from someone, you and the seller should go to a licensed gun store and have it registered in your name.
That way, if the gun comes up as stolen later, you will be protected from charges.
The new technology at the York County Sheriff's Office can even allow investigators to restore serial numbers that may have been scratched off of stolen guns.