Gun thefts fuel the illegal firearm market, and almost 6,900 firearms were reported lost or stolen in Ohio last year, according to recent federal data.
Stolen firearms regularly fall into the hands of criminals, and statistics show that stolen guns have been used in robberies, shootings and homicides across the state.
Some guns in the Dayton region have been stolen from unattended cars and unsecured places.
Firearm owners can take precautions to help combat gun theft, such as securing guns under lock and key and documenting serial numbers, authorities said.
“We highly recommend gun safes if you are going to keep a gun in your house,” said Dayton police Lt. Wendy Stiver.
In 2012, about 190,342 firearms were reported lost or stolen nationwide, according to a June report by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Americans own upward of 300 million guns, according to some estimates.
The ATF report, the first of its kind, was produced by the U.S. Department of Justice on the orders of the Obama administration, which asked the agency to analyze information regarding lost and stolen guns after the December mass shooting that left 20 children and six adult staff members dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The data in the report is incomplete, because law enforcement agencies are not mandated to report gun thefts to the National Crime Information Center’s database. Additionally, private gun owners in many states are not legally required to notify authorities when their firearms disappear.
But Ohio is one of about nine states where gun owners must file a police report when their guns are lost or stolen. Failure to comply with the law is a misdemeanor offense.
Stolen guns and drugs
Last year, about 6,782 firearms were reported stolen in Ohio, while 78 were reported lost, the data show. More guns were reported missing last year in Ohio than all but five other states: Texas (18,874 disappeared), Georgia (12,906), Florida (12,571), California (10,639) and North Carolina (9,320).
Many stolen guns are resold on street corners, while sometimes they are traded for drugs or used to pay drug debts.
“It’s rare to see stolen guns without seeing drugs,” said Fred Alverson, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio.
Many people buy stolen guns on the black market, because they cannot pass the FBI background checks that licensed gun dealers must administer before selling firearms, said Toby Hoover, executive director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence.
Felons and violent offenders lose the legal right to buy or possess firearms, so they turn to illegal gun traffickers for weapons.
Guns often are stolen during break-ins, and some gun owners make it easy for thieves because they do not store or lock up their firearms, Hoover said.
In March, a 23-year-old Dayton man reported to police that his 9mm handgun was stolen from his car overnight. The man said he kept the gun behind the driver’s seat in the rear pouch. He told police he believed his girlfriend may have left the car unlocked.
In January, a .380-caliber handgun was reported stolen from a locked truck left at an auto shop. The gun was kept in the center console.
Guns also go missing from federally licensed firearms dealers.
Last year, about 16,677 firearms were reported lost or stolen by dealers nationwide, including 501 in Ohio. About two-thirds of the missing guns nationwide were reported lost.
Across the region, guns have disappeared from atop bedroom dressers and unattended vehicles. In some cases, the gun owners did not know the make, model, or serial numbers of their firearms to report to police.
Debate over gun laws
Police need the serial numbers to determine if firearms they encounter are stolen, said Dave Coulson, special agent and public information officer for ATF.
Gun locks and gun safes also protect children from accidental shootings while making it harder on thieves to take the weapons, he said.
“Try to have your firearms as secure as you can in your house,” he said.
A heated national debate is underway about whether federal laws requiring people to report gun thefts would help cut down on the problem.
Mark Glaze, executive director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said such legislation would help law enforcement prosecute people who purchase guns legally and then illegally transfer them to others, which is known as a straw purchase.
“Very often when a trafficker or straw purchaser has a gun traced back to them, the get-out-of-jail-free card they use is claiming the gun was lost or stolen, since they don’t have to report that when it happens,” he said.
Glaze also said he supports passing a federal law requiring gun owners to store firearms safely.
But “lost and stolen” reporting requirements can punish the gun owners instead of the thieves, said Jim Irvine, chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association. He said gun theft is the primary way that criminals obtain guns, but he opposes laws that target legal gun owners instead of the criminals responsible for stealing them.
“There isn’t a law that says if my car gets stolen, I must file a police report, but I am going to do it anyway,” he said. “This doesn’t solve our problem.”
Safe storage laws can increase the time it takes for gun owners to access firearms they need for self-defense and protection, which could prove deadly, he said. He also said there are many effective ways to secure firearms, depending on a person’s circumstances.
“It’s one of those things that seem like a good idea — I mean, I store my guns in a safe — but what is safe for one person isn’t safe for another,” he said.
The NRA has opposed proposed legislation in California that requires firearms be locked away within a locked house when no one is home.
“Everyone knows that firearms must be stored safely, but most Americans feel that it is not the government’s business or role to dictate how people store things in their home,” wrote Charles Cunningham, director of state and local affairs for the NRA, in a letter to the state lawmaker who introduced the bill.