Doylestown Intelligencer | OPINION | March 8, 2012
The best way to judge the effectiveness of any rule or law is to look at the impact. With that in mind, we note that in the seven states where gun owners are required to report missing guns, an average of 6.2 guns per 100,000 people are recovered at crime scenes.
In states where there is no such requirement, an average of 16.1 guns per 100,000 people are recovered at crime scenes. That’s nearly three times as many guns.
We mined that nugget from this week’s story about legislation that would allow gun owners and gun groups, such as the National Rifle Association, to sue Pennsylvania towns they believe have enacted local gun laws that violate state law. The measure, House Bill 1523, not only would enable such suits, it would allow plaintiffs to recover triple the amount of damages, including legal costs. Plus, an additional $5,000 penalty could be assessed per successful suit.
If that doesn’t worry you, it should. That’s because the potential cost of HB 1523 could well exceed a local government’s limited resources. Knowing that, why would any state lawmaker, regardless of his or her position on gun control, support this potentially calamitous legislation? To avoid a “hodgepodge of (gun) laws across 67 counties,” says state Rep. Paul Clymer, who represents Bucks County’s 145th Legislative District.
Why this is an issue requires a review of recent history. You might recall state lawmakers considered but rejected a measure that would have made it a legal requirement to report a stolen or missing gun. A state-mandated reporting law, which is universally favored by law enforcement, wouldn’t affect law-abiding gun owners so much as so-called “straw purchasers.” These are people who buy guns legally, then sell them illegally to people who can’t buy guns — usually because they have a criminal record. When those guns are later recovered at a crime scene, the straw purchaser simply claims the gun was missing or stolen. Case closed.
A reporting law would inhibit straw purchasers because they’d face prosecution if they hadn’t reported a “stolen” or “missing” gun later recovered at a crime scene. And they’d raise suspicion if they became serial reporters.
State Rep. Todd Stephens, R-151, is a member of the House Judiciary Committee and was among 19 committee members who voted in favor of the bill, allowing it to move to the House floor. Stephens says the bill doesn’t target lost gun-reporting laws per se — “The words ‘lost’ and ‘stolen’ don’t appear anywhere in (the bill),” he says. Rather, the former Montgomery County prosecutor notes the bill “only says if a municipality violates state law; it doesn’t say how.”
But here’s what the bill says: “Amending Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in firearms and other dangerous articles, further providing for limitation on the regulations of firearms and ammunition.” It’s clear to us the intent of this legislation is to prevent municipalities from passing stricter gun laws than the state’s, including provisions for reporting lost and stolen firearms.
Stephens says gun owners should report missing guns, but he doesn’t see mandated reporting as a panacea to solving gun violence.
Certainly not a panacea, but just as certainly a very useful tool to aid law enforcement in cracking down on the illegal gun trade while preserving the Second Amendment right of law-abiding citizens to own firearms.
Pennsylvania should have a tough, uniform law governing the reporting of lost and stolen firearms. Instead of going after communities that have passed such laws on their own — including Abington and Ambler in Montgomery County — lawmakers should put some teeth in the state statute.
The discussion shouldn’t be about violating state law; it should be about a common-sense approach to law enforcement.