Proposed laws requiring the reporting of lost or stolen firearms are becoming popular across the United States. The latest example is in Missouri, where State Representative-Elect Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, has pre-filed House Bill 1824, to require reporting of lost or stolen firearms within 72 hours of discovering the loss.
These laws are generally pushed as incentivizing gun owners to report the loss and help the police; the implication being that they are irresponsible, and only penalties will get them to to do the right thing. Aldridge is typical.
“And if I would have lost my gun or if someone stole my gun I think it’s very important as a gun owner to make sure that you work with local law enforcement, who already have a tough job as it is,” Aldridge says.
The reality is that these laws address straw purchasers who provide firearms to criminals, then declare, “It was stolen!” when a trace on a crime gun leads back to them… i.e. traffickers.
HB 1824 penalizes failure to report a civil infraction with a $100 fine for the first offense, $1,000 for a second, and a third offense would be a misdemeanor with a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.
Someone who “loses” firearms three times and fails to report them is either really unlucky and/or none too bright, or a trafficker. Someone who is knowingly providing weapons to criminals should face consequences. The right consequences.
Like most states, if not all, Missouri already has a law against trafficking firearms. It’s 571.060 Unlawful transfer of weapons, penalty, a class E felony, good for a “term of years not to exceed four years.” In my state it’s O.C.G.A. 16-11-113, also a felony.
While blaming honest firearm owners who have a vested interest in not arming criminals — whom we arm ourselves against — Aldridge is proposing to effectively reduce the penalty for criminal trafficking from a serious felony to no more than a misdemeanor.
It almost makes you wonder who Aldridge considers to be his real core constituency. When sworn in, he will represent district 78 in Saint Louis.
Compare that to crime scenes in Saint Louis.
Another issue with these laws is enforceability. The average time-to-crime for traced firearms in Missouri is 6.61 years (the national average is 9.3 years). If this bill passes, will someone whose firearm was stolen six years ago — before required reporting was the law — face a fine retroactively when the weapon turns up?
Will those who, for whatever reason, failed to report need to rush to report the loss now, thus incriminating themselves for taking more than 72 hours to comply? Or will it apply to losses occurring after the law is enacted? One would expect for the latter, but I’ve learned to assume the worst with gun control laws.
Unless enforced retroactively, these laws won’t have any appreciable effect on the violent crime Representative-Elect Aldridge claims to be addressing for years, if ever. In fact, straw purchasers will consider their odds of getting away with it to be pretty good, given the low recovery rate of stolen firearms and the long average lead time.
Aside from reducing penalties for criminal acts, these reporting laws are pointless.