CRIMINALS are stealing guns from farms in the Ballarat region to feed a growing methamphetamine trade.
In recent months, farms at Dunnstown, Ballan, Bungaree, Landsborough and Corindhap have been targeted and had firearms stolen.
Victoria Police livestock and farm crime Superintendent Craig Gillard said criminals were hitting rural properties for guns which then found their way into the hands of drug dealers.
There were 50 farm burglaries in the western half of the state in the past six months with more than 140 firearms stolen.
"Clearly firearms are becoming a commodity," Superintendent Gillard said.
"They are turning up in rural cities in the hands of methamphetamine dealers. It is a huge issue. I don't need to remind people how dangerous that situation is to police and the community at large.
"We know most farms have guns. When it is obvious the property owner has left to, say, go to the footy in Melbourne, they are an easy target."
This year there have been two separate burglaries in Ballarat with four firearms taken during each raid.
In Bungaree 1000 rounds of ammunition were stolen, while in Ballan one firearm and ammunition were taken.
"There is a strong link between ice and gun theft. They are selling them or exchanging them for drugs"
A firearm was stolen from a property in Dunnstown, while four each have been stolen in burglaries in Landsborough and Corindhap.
Superintendent Gillard said, despite the upsurge in gun thefts there had been no corresponding increase in armed robbery cases.
He said guns were increasingly carried by drug dealers because of growing violence surrounding the proliferation of crystal methamphetamine, also known as "ice".
The smaller calibre rifles, such as .22s, are often being sawn off to create concealable handgun-sized weapons for self-defence.
"There is a strong link between ice and gun theft. They are selling them or exchanging them for drugs," Superintendent Gillard said.
"Whatever is in the gun cabinet they take. We are seeing a lot .22 rifles and even air rifles go.
"It's hard to say categorically if it is organised crime, but we know they are being stolen to order."
Superintendent Gillard warned farmers to take greater precautions with their firearms beyond merely placing them in a gun safe and assuming they would not be stolen.
"There are precautions they should take, such as not having an angle grinder near their gun safe, and don't hid the keys behind a welding mask. Simple things," he said.
"Gun owners just have to be more careful."