The number of guns stolen in New Orleans rose significantly in 2016, arming criminals and fueling violent crime across the area.
According to New Orleans Police Department records obtained by the Times-Picayune, some 604 guns were reported stolen in the city in 2016, a 19 percent uptick from 2015.
“We are fighting illegal guns every day,” said NOPD Deputy Chief Paul Noel. He added that criminals get guns in a “bunch of different ways” but that stolen firearms were “a huge conduit.”
Authorities say that the actual number of guns is most likely much higher, as they estimate only about half of stolen guns are reported to the police. About half of the reported stolen guns were taken from vehicles.
“We cannot leave firearms in our vehicle, and we absolutely cannot leave firearms in unsecured vehicles,” Noel said. “If you’re a gun owner, you need to be a responsible gun owner. The responsibility of owning a gun comes with properly locking and securing that firearm – not leaving it loose in your vehicle.”
The Times Picayune reports city officials have recently taken measures to try and deal with the issue of stolen guns.
Mayor Mitch Landieu signed a law last year that penalizes people who fail to report stolen guns to police within 48 hours of discovering the theft. Gun owners can be fined up to $250 for a first offense and $500 for subsequent offenses.
A special task force has also been formed to take on violent crime in the city, aimed specifically at fighting gun crime and seizing illegal firearms.
Even with new laws and task forces, some criminologists say it is not enough, arguing state and federal penalties must be more severe if meant to act as deterrents.
“An 18-year-old convicted with a second possession of a stolen firearm charge needs more than six months in jail,” said Ronal Serpas, former NOPD superintendent. “Where the statutes on illegal possession and illegal use of a firearm are not intimidating to the criminals, of course it fuels that stolen market.
“Criminals, individually, might have examples of pure stupidity. But as an enterprise they’re pretty smart and paying attention to their environment. If they don’t see a narrow focus on illegal possession of stolen guns, with serious jail time, they’re going to act on that.”