Study: Southern U.S. a hotbed for gun theft

Between 2012 and 2015, thieves lifted $328 million worth of guns from private owners across the southern United States, according to a study released this week.

The Center for American Progress said Tuesday more than half of the 1.2 million privately-owned firearms stolen over those three years came from southern states. Seven of the top 10 states where 22,000 guns go missing from retailers daily are southern: Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi.

“This problem does not affect all states equally,” the study says. “From 2012 through 2015, the average rate of the five states with the highest rates of gun theft from private owners — Tennessee, Arkansas, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Alabama — was 13 times higher than the average rate of the five states with the lowest rates — Hawaii, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, and Massachusetts.”

Likewise, gun store thefts occurred 18 times more often in the top five ranking states as compared to the bottom five. Dealers in Georgia reported more than 1,100 guns stolen in 2016 — a 122 percent increase over the year before. South Carolina gun store thefts tripled in the same time-frame, according to the study.

“Every two minutes, a gun is stolen in America,” said Chelsea Parsons, vice president of Guns and Crime Policy at the Center for American Progress, in a press release Tuesday. “These stolen guns feed directly into illegal gun trafficking networks and are destined for use in violent crimes, so gun dealers have a substantial obligation to secure their dangerous inventory and prevent against theft.”

The center recommends state and federal officials enact safe storage laws with tougher penalties for private owners, while challenging the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to regulate security protocols and inventory compliance measures for gun dealers nationwide — so long as Congress gets out of their way.

“Congress should remove the rider on ATF’s budget that prevents the agency from requiring gun dealers to conduct an annual inventory reconciliation, a commonsense business practice that would help ensure that dealers are keeping track of their dangerous inventory,” the study says.

The ATF identified the rise in gun store burglaries and robberies “as one of the primary external challenges that are straining the agency’s limited resources” in 2018.

The law does not force dealers, however, to comply with security measures the agency recommends — hampering its attempts to reduce these crimes.

“We as an agency don’t have the regulatory authority to come in and say you have to have an alarm system, bars on the windows, cameras. …” John Ham, senior investigator and public information officer for the ATF Kansas City field division, told the Kansas City Star in April. “And while the vast majority of the industry has gone that direction themselves, it still hampers our ability to combat this as effectively as we’d like.”

Rep. Brad Schneider, a Democrat from Illinois, proposed a H.R. 3361 Tuesday in response to this problem. His proposal, the SECURE (Safety Enhancements for Communities Using Reasonable and Effective) Firearm Storage Act, would mandate federally licensed dealers safely store their inventory when closed for business, as well as compel the attorney general to promulgate security policies for FFLs. Compliance with these to-be-determined regulations would become part of the FFL application approval process.

“The SECURE Firearm Storage Act makes practical improvements to ensure gun dealers are properly safeguarding their inventory so fewer of these weapons can be easily stolen and later used in violent crimes,” he said in a press release. “This bill is a commonsense step for gun safety, and I remain committed to finding further thoughtful ways to tackle this critical public health crisis in our communities.”

Parsons called the bill “a crucial step forward.”

“Nobody in America is in favor of gun theft,” she said. “And Congress should act quickly to enact this commonsense measure to help protect all of our communities.”