If one of your guns is lost or stolen, should you report it to the police?
The answer to this simple and straightforward question is “yes, of course you should.” And by “lost,” we’re not talking about when you lose your keys, but “lost” as in it’s vanished.
But there’s another question here, one that cuts to the heart of all the hubbub happening in Pennsylvania at the moment, if one of your guns is lost or stolen, should you be required to, by law, report it to the police?
Arguably, this is a much more challenging question because there are a lot more variables at play, variables involving legal repercussions (penalties and fines, etc.) and legal liability for those who fail to report a firearm lost or stolen.
In 2008, the Pennsylvania General Assembly had before it a “lost-and stolen” bill, which basically posed the question, should citizens be required to report lost or stolen firearms.
Lawmakers voted down the measure 128-75.
However, despite the fact that the bill had been defeated, city officials and local municipalities took matters into their own hands. They began to pass their own lost-and-stolen bills at the local levels.
By 2009, nine cities – including Philadelphia, Lancaster, Reading, Pottsville, and Allentown – passed lost-and-stolen ordinances. To date, 30 towns have done the same, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
To give one an example of what these lost-and-stolen ordinances look like, in Philadelphia, a gun owner must file a report with police within 24 hours after the discovery of a lost or stolen firearm. If the gun owner fails to file a report, he/she can be fined up to $1,900 for the first offense and face either a $2,000 fine or up to 90 days in jail or both for subsequent offenses.
But now pro-gun lawmakers are fighting back. Currently, there is a bill (H.B. 1523) tracking through the General Assembly that “would strengthen Pennsylvania’s firearm preemption law to further ensure firearm and ammunition laws are uniform throughout the state.”
In other words, it would prohibit municipalities from adopting ordinances that supercede state law. And it would also give pro-gun organizations like the NRA the right to sue any Pennsylvania city with a lost-and-stolen ordinance.
With H.B. 1523 gaining momentum (it currently has 70 cosponsors) many pro-gun control advocates are outraged.
Philadelpia Inquirer Columnist, Monica Yant Kinney, said in her column that “Pennsylvania gun laws are a sick joke.”
She added that supporters of the bill “want to make recalcitrant communities pay for their crimes by saddling them with legal fees and damages even if towns scrap their laws.”
Well, no. Pennsylvania lawmakers simply want consistency and uniformity. H.B. 1523 would establish that. And as the NRA pointed out, “citizens with no criminal intent should not be placed in jeopardy of running afoul of local restrictions they don`t even know exist simply because they have crossed from one municipality to another.”
Moreover, Ms. Kinney needs to recognize that undermining state law to pass an ordinance on the local level that shifts the legal burden to responsible gun owners, like those lost-and-stolen laws do, is unfair.
Plus, and perhaps this is the most convincing argument against lost-or-stolen laws: they really don’t solve the problem. That is because criminals don’t follow the law to begin with.
In 2010, Philadelphia police recovered more than 4,000 guns, of those only 64 of those were reported lost or stolen. Again, Philadelphia has enacted a lost-or-stolen ordinance.
Why didn’t more Philadelphians report guns that were lost and/or stolen?
Well, the reality is that while a percentage of those guns were probably owned by law-abiding citizens, the vast majority of them were most likely trafficked by criminals (straw purchasers), hence the dearth of reports filed.
In other words, the law is ineffective and doesn’t really do what it’s designed to do: cut down on the flow of crime guns.
So, at the end of the day, we can all agree that we have to do a better job of keeping track of our guns. But to solve the problem of crime guns, we need laws that target criminals, not law-abiding gun owners.