Firearm retailers and those seeking to purchase a gun in Ohio now have a new tool to help them identify stolen firearms that are offered for sale. On Monday, state Attorney General Dave Yost announced the creation of the Ohio Stolen Gun Database, which is a list of all firearms reported stolen to the Law Enforcement Automated Data System (LEADS).
The publicly available database doesn’t reveal any identifying information about the original purchaser of the firearm. Instead, Yost says that users can enter the serial number of a firearm offered for sale and will get a simple message telling them if the firearm in question has been reported stolen to any law enforcement agency in the state.
Thousands of guns are reported stolen or missing every year in Ohio, and sometimes they’re taken to dealers like Eric Delbert, a co-owner of LEPD Firearms and Range in Columbus, who said he’s wanted this database since he started his business eight years ago.“It is only one step to help impact violence in our community,” Delbert said. “But it is certainly a small victory in help take away avenues for thieves and criminals to advance their illegal activities of selling stolen firearms to unsuspecting good citizens.”
Yost says he is still working to gain the confidence of other law enforcement and government partners so his office can access the information needed.
“That data is currently collected by local jurisdictions and it lives in different places and different ways,” Yost said. “So one of the things we’re looking at is who are our willing partners to help put this together and what do we need to do legally to be able to access that data and arrange it in a way that Joe Q. Citizen and Betty Buckeye can look up that serial number.
According to the website for the new database, the information contained within can help identify whether or not a gun has been reported stolen, but do note that the AG’s office says that it should not “be used as a confirmation or probable cause” for a stolen firearm.
Information contained herein should not be relied upon for any type of legal action. Please be advised that the identification number assigned to a particular gun by the manufacturer and/or owner may not be unique; duplicates may exist. The AGO and LEADS cannot represent that this information is current, active, or complete. Whether a stolen property report is active must be verified with either a local law enforcement agency or with the reporting agency.
That caveat is likely one of the big reasons why the use of the database is voluntary, but if a search for a serial number does indicate that a firearm is stolen, the prospective buyer could still contact law enforcement on their own to confirm that the firearm has not been returned to its rightful owner.
I think the database will be of use, particularly to those firearms retailers who sell used guns in addition to new inventory. If a gun is flagged they can simply refuse to purchase the firearm until they’ve confirmed there’s no issue, and if a search of the database comes back clean they can take possession of the gun knowing that it’s not been reported stolen in the state of Ohio.
There are drawbacks, of course. Guns stolen outside of the state won’t show up in the database, for instance, and I’m always a little suspicious that a program that begins on a voluntary basis could end up as a mandate. As long as it remains voluntary and no identifying information about the original owner of the firearm is accessible to the public, the Ohio Stolen Gun Database shouldn’t be seen as a gun control measure, but as a tool that has the potential to be genuinely helpful to those who buy and sell firearms for a living.