Guess how many stolen guns are out there floating around America. (Hint: It's in the millions!)
These are guns that most frequently make their way to the criminal element, and are used with impunity because the shooter knows it will be difficult to tie them to the weapon. Imagine the trouble this causes law enforcement as it tries to find the perpetrator of a deadly crime in which a stolen gun was used. There are no sales receipts floating around when guns change hands this way.
In the wake of America's never-ending string of mass shootings, there is widespread demand for new laws to restrict gun and ammunition sales, to mandate stronger background checks or to find ways to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. But next to nothing is said about irresponsible gun owners, manufacturers and sellers who fail to keep their weapons safe from theft. It is time to talk about that.
A study of nationwide police reports from 2006 to 2016 shows that more than 2 million guns were stolen from gun shops, homes, vehicles and people who were carrying their weapon in public. The actual number of filched firearms that decade was probably considerably higher, as many gun thefts are not reported to law enforcement. The latest annual estimates come from calendar year 2016, when at least 237,000 guns were reported stolen. If that trend continues, we'll have another million missing guns saturating the landscape in no time, and all because gun owners didn't take personal responsibility to do the right thing.
Good grief. We buy cars, backyard swimming pools and chainsaws that come with the implied responsibility of keeping them secure and safe from ne'er-do-wells. Why should an item that can easily kill another person be treated any less carefully?
Stuffing a gun in your underwear drawer or nightstand or your car center console is not the right way to store a firearm, especially if it is loaded. Yet this happens in households across the country. Setting aside the issue of keeping a gun safe if there are children in the house (a trigger lock is always a good idea), firearm owners also automatically inherit the responsibility of keeping their guns away from the criminal element.
Any cop on the beat will tell you there's a class of crooks who break into homes specifically looking for guns to steal. Please, don't make it easy for them. Guns need to be stored in sturdy locked safes or bolted-down lockboxes, preferably unloaded and with ammunition kept in a separate location. Keep these safeguards in your bedroom if you are worried about nighttime intruders.
Reader Michael Daly of Gallup, New Mexico, recently wrote to tell me he is worried about this issue and related a personal story: "A local FBI friend of mine said that when he has to go someplace without his gun he breaks it down, leaving parts in several places in his car and carries a part with him so if the thief does get in he or she will only get parts, not a whole weapon." A nifty idea, I'd say.
It's not just citizen gun owners who have weapons for their own personal use and protection who need to be aware. Those involved in manufacturing and selling guns also have a legal and civic responsibility to make sure their product doesn't land in the wrong hands. According to the feds assigned to monitor this, those businesses aren't performing their duty very well.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, reports that since 2012, there has been a significant rise in the number of guns that have gone missing from federal firearms licensees (FFLs). This includes either individuals or companies approved to manufacture, import or sell firearms. Burglaries at FFL locations went up by 48 percent. Robberies increased a staggering 175 percent, allowing thousands of more guns out into the criminal underground.
So, with this in mind, how about Congress pass a law requiring strong, mandatory security measures at these firearm locations? Or employ safeguards such as alarm systems or surveillance cameras, specific guidelines for storing guns after hours and more ATF compliance inspections? Oh, and while they're at it, how about doling out stiff fines or even jail sentences for those civilians and businesses that fail to report a stolen gun that is later used in a crime?
If you consider yourself responsible enough to own a gun or sell guns, please understand the rest of us are counting on you to do the right thing. Everyone understands the constitutional right American citizens have to own a gun — or multiple guns — but anyone with a brain understands that that gun, put into the wrong hands, can and often does have deadly consequences. If you're not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
To find out more about Diane Dimond, visit her website at www.dianedimond.com. Her latest book, "Thinking Outside the Crime and Justice Box," is available on Amazon.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.