When it comes to stolen guns, punish the thief, not the victim

When it comes to stolen guns, punish the thief, not the victim
Denis Poroy

The vast majority of armed criminals out there have illegally gotten ahold of a gun, and one of the most common ways they’re able to get their hands on one is through theft. According to the ATF, more than 1-million firearms were stolen from private citizens between 2017 and 2021, and while the numbers aren’t really in dispute how to address the problem is very much up for debate. According to gun control activists, the answer is to impose new burdens on gun owners; storage requirements that make it difficult if not impossible to access a firearm for self-defense, requiring gun owners to report the theft of any firearms with 24 or 48 hours or risk criminal charges themselves, and other measures that amount to legislative victim-blaming that point the finger at legal gun owners while ignoring those who are actually stealing guns.

In Oklahoma, however, they’re going in a different direction and putting the onus for these crimes where it truly belongs.

On Thursday, the Senate Public Safety Committee approved Senate Bill 859, which was authored by Sen. Darrell Weaver, R-Moore.

The measure would increase the maximum prison term from two years to five years and increase the maximum fine from $1,000 to $2,500 for the theft of a firearm.

“I will always fight for the Second Amendment right of law-abiding citizens to own and carry firearms to protect themselves and their families. We’re not talking about law-abiding citizens here – we’re talking about criminals who will use these stolen firearms to commit even more crimes,” Weaver said.  “It’s a serious crime, and it should carry tougher penalties.”

SB 859 won’t stop gun thefts completely, because there’s always going to be a ready supply of idiots ready and willing to break the law. But if the bill is implemented, perhaps with a public service campaign alerting potential thieves that they’ll be doing hard time if they’re convicted of stealing a gun, I suspect there will be a deterrent effect.

At the very least, this bill does no harm to law-abiding gun owners who are the victims of burglars or thieves, which already makes it better than “lost or stolen” laws or storage mandates that punish gun owners with misdemeanor charges if their firearms are stolen from their vehicle. I think it’s a bad idea to leave your gun in your car overnight, even if it’s parked in your driveway, but that doesn’t mean that it should be a criminal offense.

Given the Republican majorities in the Oklahoma state legislature, anti-gun efforts that target gun owners instead of gun thieves probably wouldn’t get far anyway, but in blue states around the country and on Capitol Hill legislators are busy crafting one-size-fits-all policies that can easily turn legal gun owners into criminals if they don’t keep their firearms under lock and key when they’re not being carried around in a holster.

The legislation being advanced in Oklahoma is a much more appropriate way to address gun thefts. Another approach would be to encourage the use of gun safes without mandating how firearms must be stored, and a bill to that effect by offering residents a $300 tax credit managed to garner the approval of both Democrats and Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates this week. There are some policies out there that can attract broad bipartisan support, but none of them should involve turning crime victims into criminals themselves.