With new "lost or stolen" ordinance, Milwaukee council members blame crime victims for rise in homicides

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Milwaukee has a murder problem. As of the end of June, homicides are running almost 40% higher than last year, and city officials are pointing the finger at the “easy accessibility of guns” as the problem, despite the fact that firearms were just as easy to acquire last year as they are today.

Instead of cracking down on those illicitly obtaining guns, however, city council members are instead targeting the victims of crime with a bill that promises thousands of dollars in fines for burglary victims that fail to report the theft of a firearm to police within 24 hours.

“Stolen guns increased 124% in 2021 versus 2019,” said Alderman Russell W. Stamper, II in presenting the proposal to the Public Safety & Health Committee Thursday morning.

In 2021, Stamper said the Milwaukee Police Department reported 863 guns being stolen from vehicles and 379 from homes.

“Every year it’s going up, it’s getting worse, it’s reflected in our community,” said Stamper.

And why, exactly, is Stamper blaming the increase on gun thefts on those who are the victims of these burglaries? I was under the impression that the left frowned upon victim blaming, but I guess there’s an exception when it comes to gun owners who’ve had their homes or vehicles broken into.

He said he was motivated to do something after a rash of weekend shootings earlier this summer. Stamper called MPD administration for help with crafting an ordinance.

“I know us, as Common Council members, for years have been trying to do what we can do to stop gun violence within the state restrictions,” said the alderman.

“This is a real thing,” said MPD chief of staff Nick DeSiato. “We appreciate the alderman’s support here. We went back and forth how we could come up with an ordinance that makes sense, that would be applicable, that would be enforceable.”

The resulting ordinance, unanimously recommended by the committee, contains two key provisions.

An owner of a firearm not reported to the police as stolen or misplaced, and for which the firearm is later used in a crime resulting in a misdemeanor or felony conviction is liable to pay a penalty of $2,500 to $5,000.

“The key thing here is to report your gun as stolen,” said Stamper.

DeSiato said the department would rely on reports of the outcome of cases to issue the fines.

I have several questions for Stamper and DeSiato, starting with “why do you think this is necessary?” How often are officers recovering guns only to have their lawful owner tell police “Oh yeah, I meant to tell y’all that someone broke into my house and stole that a few months ago”?

I can’t imagine that happens a lot, if at all. I’ve never been the victim of a break-in myself, but if I was I’d want to let police know what I had in the slim chance that any of my property was recovered. The way Stamper and DeSiato tell it, most gun owners appear to be actively hiding this information from police, which just doesn’t make any sense and really does come across as scapegoating the victims of a burglary.

But here’s another question for the officials. Given the importance in alerting police right away when a gun is stolen, what actually happens right now when a burglary victim does call police to report a gun that’s gone missing? Is there an alert sent out to officers that there’s one more illicitly obtained firearm on the streets? Are extra investigative techniques deployed to the scene of the burglary to help aid in identifying the suspect? Or is that fact just duly noted and then largely forgotten about unless or until it’s recovered?

Given the fact that the Milwaukee police department is short almost 200 officers at the moment, something tells me that these reports don’t result in a massive amount of manpower being spent to track down and recover that firearm.

It’s no coincidence that the new “lost or stolen” ordinance is coupled with a new mandate that gun owners who store firearms in their vehicles do so in a hidden “secure locking device” or the locked trunk of their car. The city is looking for a way to put some teeth behind that ordinance, and the lost-or-stolen requirement is their chosen means of doing so.

Should you call police if you’ve been burglarized or your car’s been broken into? Of course. If you have to leave your gun in an unattended vehicle, should you take steps to make sure the gun isn’t easily accessed if someone breaks in? You bet. But given the fact that nationwide less than 15% of burglaries and car thefts end up with an arrest and conviction, trying to pin the blame on the victims is a really bad look.

Milwaukee’s latest move against gun owners seems like an attempt to mask the city’s failure to actually address the number of thefts (all theft, not just firearms) taking place; up from 3,301 in the first six months of 2020 to more than 4,500 in the first six months of this year. The city’s homicide rate is also up by nearly 40% compared to last year and 2020, and the city is desperate to tell residents it’s “doing something” to address their rightful concerns about their personal safety.

Instead of focusing on the individuals actually responsible for these crimes, however, the city council and the Milwaukee Police Department have decided to go the easy route and scapegoat gun owners for the city’s failures. Gun control groups and anti-gun politicians across the country will undoubtably applaud the city for their new ordinances, which are set to win final approval next week, but any Milwaukee resident who thinks this is going to make their neighborhood a safer is place is going to be sorely disappointed with the results… if the ordinances even survive a court challenge and take effect.