Savannah mayor wants to punish gun owners if they're the victim of theft

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Amidst a sharp increase in the number of guns being stolen from vehicles, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson is proposing a new ordinance that would punish gun owners if their victimized by thieves… at least if they left their car, truck, or SUV unlocked at the time of the theft.

Speaking to reporters last month, Johnson claimed that his proposal “is an opportunity to decrease the thefts [and the] illegal firearms. The shootings also, we believe, will decrease as well.”

What Johnson didn’t say is that shootings are already trending down in Savannah compared to this time last year, though gun thefts are rising.

According to Savannah Police Department statistics as of Sept. 2, there have been 176 guns stolen out of vehicles ― 82% of those vehicles were unlocked. , compared to 28 in 2022, and 22 in 2021. Approximately 90% of the weapons stolen from cars in 2022 and 2021 were taken from unlocked automobiles.

Thus far in 2023, there have been 13 homicides, compared to 23 at this point each of the prior two years. There have also been fewer total violent crimes this year than last, but slightly more than two years ago. This year, there have been 849 total violent crimes, compared to 861 last year and 793 in 2021, according to SPD statistics.

“It’s just about accountability and responsibility,” said Sgt. Aaron Washington, SPD’s Supervisor of Property Crimes. Of the property theft cases that involve stolen guns that Washington investigates, he said 90% come from unlocked cars. The other cases are smashed windows and bypass devices, technology that automatically unlocks most cars, said Washington.

“You don’t want to make it easy for the criminal; you want to make it harder,” said Washington.

I’m all in favor of making it harder for criminals to illegally obtain guns, but not to the point that we’re turning their victims into criminals as well. We’re seeing a staggering rise in the number of Kias and Hyundai’s being stolen right now, for instance. Would Johnson even entertain an ordinance holding the owners of those vehicles responsible for those thefts? I highly doubt it, though I suppose there’s always a chance he would take the same approach. We’ve already seen more than a dozen cities file suit against the car companies, so going after the car owners might not be too far behind.

The mayor’s proposed ordinance is already likely to run afoul of Georgia’s firearm preemption law, but even if a judge were to uphold its legality I don’t think it would have a major impact on crime in the city. Punishing gun owners after the fact won’t change their behavior beforehand, and it seems to me that a better approach would be a public safety campaign reminding gun owners to bring their firearms inside when they park their vehicles at night and the dangers that could befall their friends, family, and neighbors if a thief gets ahold of the gun they left in the center console or the driver’s side door.

Of course, if the mayor really wants to get serious about this issue he should direct the Savannah police to focus on thefts from vehicles. We might be seeing more guns being stolen from cars because an increasing number of gun owners are throwing caution to the wind and leaving their guns behind, but the rise might also be happening because thieves know there’s little chance of getting caught at the moment. If the mayor truly wants to combat the rise in gun thefts, he should be going after the thieves themselves, not the gun owners who are their targets of opportunity.