Republicans target "smash and grab" robberies at gun stores

Republicans target "smash and grab" robberies at gun stores
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

With the number of smash and grabs at gun stores on the rise around the country, Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill are hoping to increase the penalties for those crimes. One recent incident in Fort Smith, Arkansas led to the arrest of three individuals, including two teenagers, after they backed a truck (believed to be stolen) through the front window of a pawn shop. In less than a minute the robbers were able to get their hands on multiple weapons, though thankfully it wasn’t long before police were able to take the three into custody.


Now 23 Senate Republicans are hoping to crack down on these types of gun thefts. Lindsey Graham is the lead sponsor of the Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) Protection Act of 2023, which would enhance the sentences handed down to those convicted of thefts from gun shops. West Virginia Sen. Shelly Moore Capito is one of those senators on board with the new legislation, believing that tougher consequences should cause potential thieves to think twice.

“Burglaries of gun dealerships continue to rise, which is why we must put solutions forward that deter these would-be criminals from committing these robberies and endangering our communities,” Capito said in the announcement. “I’m proud to support this legislation that implements swift and strong penalties for these crimes, and further protects our communities.”

The act would increase the statutory maximum penalty for knowingly stealing any firearm in an FFL’s business inventory from 10 to 20 years; impose a mandatory minimum sentence of three years for burglary from an FFL and five years for robbery from an FFL; and criminalize the attempted theft of a firearm from a licensed importer, manufacturer, dealer or collector.

There have been some fairly ridiculous sentences being handed out for these crimes, including a 20-year-old in Indiana who received just 14-months in federal prison at his sentencing in May after breaking into a gun shop and stealing 16 handguns. Back in April a California man got an even sweeter deal when he was sentenced to time served after pleading guilty to being one of several burglars who broke in to a store in Hayward back in 2020.

Tyronza Hampton Jr., 27, was sentenced to time served — which comes out to roughly a week spent in jail between his July 2020 arrest and release on bond at his first court appearance — in the May 31, 2020 burglary of Richardson Tactical. Hampton was sentenced Feb. 27 by U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar.
Hampton was indicted in 2020, along with fellow Oakland residents Dashawn Taylor, Anthony Craft Jr., and a fourth person whose charges were swiftly dismissed. Taylor, like Hampton, was sentenced to no additional jail or prison time. Craft, by contrast, received 30 months behind bars.
According to prosecutors, there were nine burglars in total, but police only made four arrests. Twenty-seven guns were stolen from the store.
The burglary happened on a night of mass demonstrations and civil unrest across the East Bay over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.
In court papers, Alan Dressler, the attorney representing Hampton, wrote that a prison sentence would be “devastating” to him and his family and impede Hampton’s rehabilitation. Hampton also wrote an apology letter that says, “I just want to be a better me.”
Amazingly, the federal judge overseeing Hampton’s case not only sentenced him to probation instead of the 30-month sentence prosecutors were asking for, but declined to make him pay any restitution to the business owner who was the victim of the burglary.

While the FFL Protection Act won’t stop every one of these idiots from ramming a stolen car through the front of a gun store in order to grab what’s inside, it will at least ensure that judges can’t give guys like Hampton a complete pass on their crimes. I’d prefer even higher mandatory minimums than the three-to-five years offered by the current text of the legislation, but this is still a step in the right direction… or at least it could be if Senate Democrats allow the bill to come up for a vote.

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