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 “If we truly want to honor this fallen hero [murdered Plymouth Township police officer Bradley Fox, above] by working to end straw purchases in Pennsylvania, we must take the next step and require gun owners to take responsibility.” So sayeth three members of Mayor Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns in a polemic posted at Their recommendation sounds reasonable. If the Pennsylvania law required armed Americans to report lost or stolen guns it would help police trace “crime guns” to people who (illegally) bought the firearm for felons and other prohibited persons. Which would help choke-off the supply of guns to criminals. Notice the word “help” . . .

There is no study linking police recovery of [traceable] crime guns to the arrest of straw purchasers to a reduction in gun violence. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. But creating a mandatory lost or stolen gun law is a completely unproven strategy for crime reduction. With more than a few downsides.

Before getting into the potential pitfalls of mandatory reporting of lost or stolen guns, it’s important to note that any such legislation is illegal under federal law. Specifically, the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act (FOPA) of 1986. More specifically, Federal Law 18 U.S.C. 926 (2) (a)):

No such rule or regulation prescribed after the date of the enactment of the Firearms Owners Protection Act may require that records required to be maintained under this chapter or any portion of the contents of such records, be recorded at or transferred to a facility owned, managed, or controlled by the United States or any State or any political subdivision thereof, nor that any system of registration of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions or disposition be established. Nothing in this section expands or restricts the Secretary’s authority to inquire into the disposition of any firearm in the course of a criminal investigation.

In layman’s terms, FOPA forbids any local, state or federal agency from maintaining any registry of firearms, firearm owners or firearms transactions.

Yes, this includes information gathered during the FBI’s instant criminal background check of firearms purchasers; that data must be destroyed within 24 hours of collection.

FOPA’s registration prohibition is routinely and systematically violated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and various states (e.g. the ATF’s and CA’s long gun registry), but the law is the law.

And this law was designed to prevent the government from infringing upon American’s constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms. The driving principle: if the government knows what guns you have it makes it easy for them to confiscate those firearms.

I have one word for those who dismiss any such concerns as part of a tin foil hat wearing parade: Katrina. In the hurricane’s aftermath, New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie Compass directed the police, the U.S. Army National Guard and Deputy U.S. Marshals to seize all civilian-held firearms. And seize them they did.

If the Pennsylvania pols and po-po had a registry of lost and stolen guns—again, an illegal practice under federal law—they could naturally assume that the law-abiding citizens who reported the loss or theft had other firearms. Come confiscation time, should it ever come to that, the boys in blue and their camo-clad cousins would know upon which doors to knock.

That’s big time bad for freedom-loving gun owners—but a bit way out there paranoid for most folks. Despite Katrina, which was, after all, an act of God. So look at it this way . . .

If PA had a law requiring citizens to report all lost and stolen firearms, not reporting them would become a crime. If the police had reason to suspect that a gun owner had failed to report a lost or stolen gun, they could legally coerce the gun owner to prove that his or her guns hadn’t been stolen.

“Were any firearms stolen in the course of this burglary?” With that simple question, the police can put a gun owner in a terrible jam.

If the owner says “no” and guns are later traced back to the crime they’ve broken the law. At the very least, they’ll lose their gun rights forever. Even if no means no, but especially if the answer is yes, the cops can use the law to go on a fishing expedition.

“How many guns do you have? Where do you keep them? Do you have records of their purchase? Can you prove that all of those guns are still in your possession?”

PA’s handgun sales laws are already FOPA-defying: “Private sellers of handguns, and rifles and shotguns under a certain length, must use a licensed seller to conduct the transaction.” And guess what? The PA po-po keep a record of handgun transactions. So . . . “Please show me the following firearms.”

And what if a PA resident loses a gun? Pennsylvania can deny an applicant for a license to carry (LTC) for “presenting a danger to public safety.” If a gun owner tells the police he or she lost a firearm, it’s a prima facie case that they’re a danger to public safety. Same if they don’t report a lost gun. Catch-22.

Although there have been repeated attempts to enact safe [firearms] storage laws in Pennsylvania, there are no such mandates at the moment. Say PA’s governor signed a law requiring legal gun owners to report lost or stolen guns. “Common sense” suggests a safe storage law would also get safe passage. Why not prevent lost and stolen guns?

A safe storage law would allow the authorities to check to see if gun owners were following its provisions. And once government agents get a look at a citizens’ firearms (and make a note of them for their records) it opens the door to. . . taxation. After all, you can’t tax what you don’t see. And you can tax what you do.

Proof of concept? Cook County’s “violence tax.” It’s not going to pass but the fact that an attempt was made shows that such a thing is possible. And once a firearms tax is established, it’s also possible to raise the levy to the point where it becomes prohibitive. A Providence, RI license to carry cost $250 for four years.

See how this works? A seemingly sensible gun control law enables all manner of government abuses, restrictions and, let’s call them what they are, infringements on our Constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms. Upon which our freedom, our entire way of life, depends.

Lost or stolen guns are bad. Lost or stolen liberty is worse. Given that there’s no scientific evidence that a lost or stolen gun law reduces gun crime, given that knowingly selling a firearm to a prohibited person is already a crime, the Mayors Against Illegal Guns are deeply dangerously misguided. Again. Still.

Bradley Fox deserves better.

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  1. “If PA had a law requiring citizens to report all lost and stolen firearms, not reporting them would become a crime. If the police had reason to suspect that a gun owner had failed to report a lost or stolen gun, they could legally coerce the gun owner to prove that his or her guns hadn’t been stolen.”

    I’m not a lawyer, but wouldn’t this run afoul of the fifth amendment? In addition to the fourth, first, and second among others?

  2. A required reporting bill was recently vetoed by Gov. Brown in CA, mainly on the grounds that it was useless and harassment of gun owners moreover. In CA politics, where idiocy rules the day, this proved idiocy too much. MAIG should take stock.

    Also, isn’t “requiring” someone to “take responsibility” an absurd, albeit insidious, perversion of language? If you accept this construction as reasonable in principle, it leads to some very hateful conclusions.

  3. “PA’s handgun sales laws are already FOPA-defying.”
    I think that link is a little out of date, considering the 1995 on it. For one thing, PA honors many out of state permits now and I’ve never seen anyone have to come back 48 hours later to pick up a handgun they bought.

    • New link to Wikipedia added.

      “The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in Allegheny County Sportsmen’s League v. Rendell, 860 A.2d 10 (Pa. 2004), that Pennsylvania’s database of handgun sales is not prohibited by state law.”

      • Many police still believe that it is a registry, and if you are carrying a handgun acquired in a way that it wouldn’t be in the sales database (a gift, a gun older than the database, a gun you moved with from out of state…) they might give you trouble over it.

  4. While you make some good points, Robert, you left off a couple of remedies a straw purchaser could use. This may not pertain to PA specifically, but for most of the US in general. A straw purchaser can simple say “why yes, officer, I do have that gun in my possession. Well, crap, it appears that it has been stolen. I’d like to file a theft report”. OR, buy guns second hand. The ATF trace will only show the first RETAIL purchaser. Once that new firearm is sold or traded to an FFL , the only trail will be the 4473, which unless it’s submitted to the ATF for ‘cataloging’, won’t be available on E-Trace, Suspect gun database, Multiple Sales Database (unless straw buyer buys two or more), or any of the other searchable databases that are maintained by the National Tracing Center.

    For any law requiring lost or stolen guns to be effective, along with any other of the gun control laws that the antis would like to see, there must also be registration of firearms and licensing of firearm owners, NATIONWIDE. Just like we make small baby steps in restoring 2A rights, the antis’ agenda is to make small baby steps in gun control.

    • Laws with people’s names in the title are almost universally bad laws. They arise out of the emotion in the immediate aftermath of an event, and out of the desire that someone must do something and that this must never. happen. again.

  5. So you are a crime VICTIM, and this law would make it a crime for a victim to fail to report a crime? And how does reporting a stolen gun prevent the latter commission of a crime with that stolen gun? The burglar is going to sell it off the radar, and the gun joins the millions of others i the black market. REporting a firearm as stolen is not going to assist in its recovery, will not prevent any number of illegal sales, and will not prevent any crime that is committed with it. Where is the logic in such a law? Absent logical purpose, it is indeed a camel’s nose.

  6. If one of my guns were stolen, I would report it immediately, to cover my own @ss. How it would help cops “prevent crime,” I have no idea. First of all, the policia don’t prevent no stinkin’ crime. Second, unless I knew who stole my gun, how would the knowledge that it was stolen help the po-po?

    The Illegal Mayors Against Guns are a bunch of flaming a$$holes. However, I do think that New York’s Mayor Gasbag has enough on his hands right now that maybe, just maybe, he’ll stick to his own business and keep his nose out of ours.

    • I’m with you, Ralph. I’d report it as soon as I discovered it. I live in a not-great area, and I think it’d be a race to see if the stolen gun was reported or used first.

      As to “preventing” crime, the only way a crime would be prevented is if my stolen gun was discovered during the investigation of another crime, and at that point it wouldn’t matter if the discovered firearm was stolen or not. It might help in the investigation of a crime, but prevention? Not likely.

  7. I have Idea: Make the purchase of a California DOJ/ATF Approved/UL Tested RSC (residential security container) aka Gun Safe an itemizable tax deduction. Just like all the green energy tax breaks you can get for weatherizing your home or the first $10,000 of a Hybrid car. That essentially makes a gun safe free, thereby making it more likely people will buy one and store their guns in them. Keeps guns out of the hands of kids and criminals, and if your safe is built in the USA, helps create jobs in America.

      • Seeing how Ft. Knox, LIberty Safe, ProSteel (Browning) Safe, Summit Safe, Champion Safe, and Superior Safe are all made in Utah. It would make sense for some Utah Congressperson to put such a passage before the US House of Reps.

  8. If politicians truly want to honor fallen police officers then they would encourage law abiding citizens to own guns, get training, and partner with the police to make American neighborhoods safer, cleaner, and basically better places to live, raise families, and open businesses.

    • +100. I agree. This is a good idea as long as the police dept gives the civilian some training and the civilian signs a waiver releasing the police dept from liability unless there are overwhelming or unusual circumstances.

  9. This makes me wonder, what’s MAIG’s idea for the “next step” that must be taken after this “next step”. And the “next step” after that once another police officer is shot in an unavoidable criminal tragedy. Now I’m no mathematician, but I think I can come up with a simple equation to clarify:

    “common sense gun control” + registration + inevitable confiscation = enslavement by gov.

    Sure, there’s a slight chance that if a gun ban came to this country we or our grandkids would never see a 1984 like society. But as long as I live I’m not willing to give that nightmare a chance to exist. I’ll gladly keep my firearms as a law abiding citizen and prevent Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia 2.0 from happening here thank you very much.

  10. Regarding Bradley Fox, the straw purchaser was paid $500 to buy the gun new at the store. How can you avoid that situation?

    “The DA says Henry bought the gun used to kill the Plymouth Township K-9 officer at a gun shop in Jeffersonville after Thomas fronted him the money for the 9mm Beretta and $500 bucks for making the so called straw purchase back in May. Thomas was a convicted felon, unable to purchase a gun legally. “

    • What creeps me out the most is that dealers are required to keep a record of the FID number, how many rounds, and the caliber of handgun ammo in some book every single time we buy it. The whole system just sends a shiver down my spine. Can’t wait to leave in a few years.

  11. “In layman’s terms, FOPA forbids any local, state or federal agency from maintaining any registry of firearms, firearm owners or firearms transactions.”
    Dead wrong. States can’t use federal records to make a registry, but they can make their own registry from their own data.

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