Tennessee bill would subject burglary victims to criminal charges

Photo Courtesy of the National Shooting Sports Foundation

Police in Nashville, Tennessee say last year was the worst on record when it comes to guns stolen from vehicles, with more than 1,300 firearms reported missing by gun owners after break-ins. The problem isn’t limited to Nashville alone, with Memphis police reporting similar numbers in their city. In fact, Memphis Police Chief C.J. Davis had her own service pistol stolen from a vehicle earlier this year.

While none of us should be happy to see those numbers, the fault here ultimately lies with the thieves who are breaking in to vehicles and stealing what’s inside. Yet a Memphis Democrat is proposing a bill that would criminalize being the victim of a burglary, as long as thieves abscond with a gun.

Tennessee lawmakers are set to discuss a bill that would make it a crime if you don’t safely store your gun.

The bill said when you are not in your car or boat:

  • The gun and/or ammunition needs to be out of sight.
  • It needs to be locked away in your trunk, utility box, glove box or a securely locked box attached to the vehicle or boat.

The punishment would not be a fine or jail time, but you would have to go to a court-approved gun safety course.

The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Raumesh Akbari also requires burglary victims to report the theft of any guns to law enforcement within 24 hours after discovering their guns have gone missing. Failure to do so would be a third-degree misdemeanor, as would storing your firearm in an unsecured manner in your car.

Akbari, who’s also introduced several pieces of legislation this year reducing the sentences for violent crimes, has sponsored similar legislation going back to at least 2019, after then-Memphis Public Safety Director Mike Rallings called for the repeal of laws allowing legal gun owners to keep their firearms in their vehicles.

At Rallings’ urging, Memphis lawmakers have introduced bills this year that would require gun owners to keep handguns left in their cars in a locked glove box or secured container.

A measure by Sen. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, and Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, would also require handgun owners to report thefts of their weapons from cars and create a $500 fine for owners who failed to report a theft if the weapon was later used in the commission of a crime.

The bill does not apply to long guns, White said.

“All we are asking is for law abiding people, if it’s (weapons) in your car, lock it up,” White said. “That’s not too much to ask.”

With all due respect to Rep. White, it’s not an “ask” if you’re subjecting lawful gun owners to criminal charges if they don’t lock up their firearms. That’s a demand, and one that should be rejected by lawmakers.

Here’s a question: how many people in Nashville were actually charged with stealing a gun last year? There’s been no shortage of media coverage about the number of guns stolen, but absolutely no reporting on the number of arrests and convictions for those crimes. That tells me that prosecutions are few and far between, which only emboldens and empowers criminals who rightfully believe that their crimes are low-risk/high-reward opportunities.

Instead of imposing criminal penalties on legal gun owners who become crime victims themselves, lawmakers should put the blame where it belongs: on the individuals who are actually breaking into cars and stealing the property inside. Beefing up prosecutions and ensuring that there are genuine consequences for stealing firearms would be far more effective at reducing the number of thefts, and if the state wants to engage in education efforts to teach new gun owners about the importance of keeping their guns secured if they have to leave it behind while they’re in public, they can certainly do so without putting any new gun control laws on the books.