Liability For Stolen Firearm Used In A Crime
Every year, hundreds of thousands of guns are lost or stolen in America, with one gun stolen from an individual owner every two minutes. Stolen guns can be diverted to the illegal gun market, where they are used to fuel crime across the country. Lost and stolen reporting laws help reduce gun trafficking by requiring individuals to report loss or theft to law enforcement shortly after discovering it.
Lost Vs Stolen
A lost firearm is simply that: lost. You may have left it behind at the range or it fell out of your boat when you were out fishing, or you simply can’t find it in the attic where you know for sure that you left it. A stolen firearm means that the gun owner has been a victim of theft. Someone broke into your house or into your car and stole your firearm. From a legal liability perspective, there is no difference between firearms that is lost versus stolen. In Utah, there is no law requiring a gun owner to report either a lost or stolen firearm. While it may be prudent to do so, it is not required under the law. Most people in the United States already think that it’s the law to report missing firearms. But in fact there is no statewide lost or stolen reporting requirement, even though statistics show that more crime guns come from states without lost or stolen reporting requirements.
If a person discovers that his or her firearm has been lost or stolen, he or she should report it missing to the police within a reasonable period of time. Lost or stolen reporting is a reform designed to crack down on the major sources of gun crimes: loss, theft, and straw purchasers people who buy guns and then sell them to people who can’t legally buy guns themselves. It’s commonsense, and even more importantly police tell us this policy works. Most guns used in crimes were once bought legally, and then through loss, theft, or improper transfer, made their way into the hands of criminals. By requiring missing firearms to be reported, police can begin looking for a lost or stolen gun before it winds up at the scene of a crime. In addition, if a gun that was already reported as lost or stolen is later used in a crime, the police do not need to waste valuable time questioning the original owner about the whereabouts of his gun. Finally, when police repeatedly trace crime guns back to an owner who claims each gun was “lost” but never reported, police may be able to flag a potential trafficker or straw purchaser.
SB438 and HB1288 will require gun owners to report the loss or theft of a firearm within 24 hours of the discovery of the loss or theft. The legislation would also hold a firearm owner, who fails to report the loss or theft of a firearm that is later used in the commission of a crime, civilly liable for any damages resulting from that crime. This is a legitimate, commonsense law enforcement tool.
Federal law requires licensed firearm dealers to report lost or stolen guns to local authorities or the U.S. Attorney General within 48 hours (18 U.S.C. 923). There is no federal law requiring individuals to report lost or stolen firearms. A person is immune from civil liability based on an act or omission related to the use of a firearm or ammunition for a firearm by another person if the other person directly or indirectly obtained the firearm or ammunition for a firearm through the commission of the following: Burglary; Robbery; Theft; Receiving Stolen Property; and Criminal Conversion. Laws that require firearm owners to notify law enforcement about the loss or theft of a firearm serve several public safety functions. These laws help deter gun trafficking and straw purchasing, and help law enforcement recover and return lost or stolen guns to their rightful owners. They can also help law enforcement disarm individuals who become ineligible to possess firearms. Stolen guns that enter the illegal market are an appealing source of firearms for people who are legally prohibited from having guns. Lost and stolen reporting requirements can help prevent straw purchases and illegal gun trafficking—measures which in turn help keep firearms out of the hands of prohibited persons. In addition to reducing illegal gun crime, reporting laws may make gun owners more accountable for their weapons. These laws can help protect rightful gun owners from unwarranted criminal accusations when a gun that was lost or stolen from them is later recovered at a crime scene.
Lost and stolen reporting requirements
Lost and stolen reporting requirements can help prevent straw purchases and illegal gun trafficking—measures which in turn help keep firearms out of the hands of prohibited persons.
• Lost and stolen reporting laws can help prevent straw purchases—purchases in which someone who can legally purchase a firearm buys it for someone who can’t legally buy it him or herself. Without reporting laws, straw purchasers can simply claim that a gun they bought and gave to a prohibited person was lost or taken in an unreported theft.
• Reporting laws also help ensure that prohibited persons—such as people who have a serious criminal conviction or are subject to a domestic violence restraining order—cannot falsely claim that guns have been lost or stolen when law enforcement moves to remove firearms from their possession.
• Lost and stolen reporting laws also help prevent gun trafficking across state lines.
Theft or Loss Reporting
Three states specifically require dealers to report to state and/or local authorities the theft or loss of any firearm, while other states apply this requirement to firearm owners generally. California requires firearms dealers to report theft or loss of any firearm or ammunition, and ammunition vendors to report the theft or loss of any ammunition, to the local law enforcement agency where the dealer is located within 48 hours. Massachusetts requires dealers to report any theft or loss to the local licensing authority and to the state Criminal History Systems Board. New Jersey requires dealers to report the loss or theft of firearms or ammunition to the local police force or the state police within 36 hours.
States with Mandatory Loss/Theft Reporting Laws
• District of Columbia
• Maryland (loss or theft of handguns and assault weapons only)
• Michigan (firearm thefts only)
• New Jersey
• New York
• Rhode Island
Liability for Stolen Firearms
In New Jersey, if a registered assault weapon is used in the commission of a crime, the registered owner of that weapon is civilly liable for any damages resulting from that crime. This liability does not apply if the assault weapon was stolen and the registered owner reported the theft to law enforcement within 24 hours of his or her knowledge of the theft.
In Utah, a person is guilty of community endangerment due to unsafe storage of a firearm if a prohibited person gains access to a firearm they own and carries it in an intimidating manner, discharges, or causes injury with it. This liability does not apply if the weapon was reported stolen and the owner reported the theft to law enforcement within five days of his or her knowledge of the theft.
Enforcement and policy approaches to reducing gun theft
Law enforcement officials across the country have become increasingly concerned about gun thefts from both gun stores and individual gun owners. These organizations have proposed several policies and actions that can be implemented to mitigate the number of stolen firearms. ATF has grown increasingly concerned about burglaries and robberies of licensed gun dealers. ATF identified the increasing number of burglaries and robberies from gun dealers as one of the primary “external challenges” that are straining the agency’s limited resources. In addition to investigating each of these incidents, in January 2017 ATF launched a new system called fflAlert to notify gun stores of thefts in the area. ATF has also issued guidance to licensed gun dealers on steps they can take to “diminish risk” of theft or loss of guns in their inventory, such as evaluating potential security weaknesses with entrances, windows, and locks; installing an alarm system and video cameras; conducting a regular inventory reconciliation; and storing guns in a secure manner when the store is closed. Gun industry experts, such as the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for the gun industry, offer similar guidance to gun dealers. Under current law, however, ATF can do little more than offer voluntary suggestions to improve security at gun stores. Although ATF is the federal agency charged with licensing and regulating the gun industry, including licensed gun dealers, it does not have the authority to mandate that dealers implement any specific security measures designed to prevent theft. Nine states and Washington, D.C., have enacted laws to partially fill this gap and require gun dealers to implement some specific security measures, but such steps fall short of a comprehensive solution to the rising rate of firearm theft from gun stores. Congress should enact legislation that mandates certain security requirements for licensed gun dealers and gives ATF the authority to ensure compliance with these requirements. Local law enforcement agencies across the country also are becoming increasingly concerned about gun thefts from individual gun owners, particularly thefts from vehicles. Local police officials offer a few recommendations to gun owners for preventing gun theft, including not storing guns in vehicles or—if it is necessary to do so—storing them in a locked compartment in the vehicle. Only four states have enacted laws requiring gun owners to keep guns locked in certain circumstances, although 27 states have enacted laws designed to prevent children from accessing guns stored in the home, which generally impose civil or criminal liability for failure to do so. States should consider implementing laws or policies that require or incentivize gun owners to store guns securely to help protect against theft. Police also recommend that gun owners take note of the make and serial numbers of all guns in their possession so that they could help with an investigation should the guns be stolen. Additionally, law enforcement officials have expressed concern that expansive state gun laws that allow guns to be carried in more locations create additional opportunities for guns to be stolen.
In addition, collecting comprehensive data on the number of guns stolen in the United States poses a substantial challenge, as there is no federal law requiring gun owners to report such thefts to law enforcement. Only nine states and Washington, D.C., have enacted state laws mandating that gun owners report when guns in their possession are stolen or lost. As a result, the data available to local law enforcement which are then collected and aggregated by the FBI are undoubtedly an undercount of the problem, as not all gun owners report these losses. The lack of mandatory reporting of stolen guns also enables gun trafficking and straw purchasing by eliminating accountability and allowing individuals whose guns end up used in connection with crime to simply say that the guns were stolen. To help ensure a more accurate assessment of the prevalence of gun theft in the United States, Congress and state legislatures should enact laws requiring all gun owners to promptly report stolen or lost guns to law enforcement. Utah does not have a law that requires Gun owner to report missing or stolen gun.
How to prevent the loss of a firearm?
• Buy a good CCW holster: People don’t think about dropping money on a high performance compact concealed carry firearm but they’ll balk at buying a concealed carry holster.
• Retention: Being accountable for your firearm at all times means knowing it’s fixed to your waistband, or secured in a shoulder holster, ankle holster or in a pocket holster. Whether you decide to open carry and go with an outside the waistband holster or carry concealed within the waistband, you need to know your firearm is going to stay put.
• Keep the Bill of Sale separate from the firearm: If a firearm gets stolen, the last thing you want going with it is the legal bill of sale. That’s the proof it’s your firearm. Keep that separate in a safe, secure location.
• Take pictures of the serialized portions of the firearm: Particularly, take pictures of the upper receiver and lower receiver (if a pistol). This is ground zero proof that this weapon, alongside your bill of sale, was indeed your weapon. If it comes time to recover it, you have that evidence. If you have to report the loss of this weapon, it’s also proof for the police that this weapon is indeed out of your custody.
• Keep unused concealed carry weapons in a gun safe: Yes, a gun safe can be crated out by a dolly. It has happened. However, it’s far less convenient to wheel a stolen gun safe off into the night than it is to haul a bunch of firearms. Don’t make a thief’s job easy – use a gun safe. This is just a great idea for keeping weapons out of the hands of unwanted parties.
Utah Gun Lawyer
When you need legal help from a Utah Gun Lawyer, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506