This really should go without saying: Don’t leave your car unlocked, especially if there’s a LOADED GUN in it.
That may seem like simple common sense, the most basic tenet of modern, mass-shooting-infected America. But around here, the problem is practically epidemic.
More than 1,000 guns have been stolen out of unlocked cars across the Lowcountry in the past four years — and those are just the ones local police know about. Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds says such carelessness might not be a crime, but maybe it should be.
Because many of these folks are basically arming criminals.
“By the very nature of stealing someone’s property out of a car, these are criminals,” Reynolds says. “I don’t know that there’s a civil liability or legal liability, but there should be some accountability.”
That’s not a bad idea, but don’t hold your breath. Too many people buy the National Rifle Association’s disingenuous interpretation of the Second Amendment, and politicians are scared to do anything that smacks of regulating firearms even modestly.
And what happens as a result?
Well, last summer, two teenagers were shot and killed at a West Ashley apartment complex. The gun on the scene had been reported stolen a few weeks earlier … out of an unlocked car.
A few months ago, Charleston police arrested a 14-year-old on an armed robbery charge. How does a kid barely out of grade school get armed? You guessed it.
People who fret over the government taking their guns should spend more time worrying about criminals getting them. Because leaving a gun within easy reach of some thief is nearly as negligent as leaving loaded guns lying out in homes where there are children.
Responsible gun owners find this reprehensible.
Thomas Clark, chief instructor for the Palmetto Gun Club and a certified concealed weapon permit instructor, told The Post and Courier’s Gregory Yee that the right to bear arms comes with responsibilities.
“The responsibility to handle, use and store it safely can’t be discarded or disassociated,” Clark says. “They go hand-in-hand.”
And yet, some people leave guns lying around their unlocked cars like a phone charger. These days, Reynolds says an astonishing number of people drive around with handguns, rifles and ammunition under the seat.
And all police can do is try to raise awareness and warn people that crooks break into cars every day.
“A lot of our stolen cars come from people who leave their keys in the vehicles,” the chief says. “Theft from autos is one of our biggest crimes.”
When these thieves are arrested, they routinely tell cops how easy it is to score. They simply walk through a neighborhood checking car doors, an inordinate number of which are unlocked. In less than an hour, they can net a few purses, wallets and some cash.
Sometimes, they even score a laptop — or a gun.
You’d think that people oblivious to the moral consequences would at least want to guard against theft. But a lot of people routinely leave their valuables open and easy for the picking.
“People generally just don’t think about this the way some of us who deal with this on a regular basis think,” Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon says. “I think people feel enough fear that they go out and get a gun and put it in the car and then they forget about it.”
Cannon says it’s doubtful any of these people, no matter how careless, would face repercussions. He likens it to someone stealing a car — the rightful owner isn’t responsible if the car thief subsequently crashes it into another car. Good point.
But the sheriff says that some cases may drift into recklessness or negligence — because it is ridiculous how often people report a theft from their car, and then admit, yeah, they left the doors unlocked.
It seems people wary enough to carry a gun would be the first ones to lock their cars, but apparently good sense doesn’t always follow gun sense. Reynolds says all police can do is continue to remind people of this problem.
“We have a pretty responsible community,” Reynolds says. “You’d think we could get this right. But I think some people, frankly, aren’t responsible gun owners.”
And, unfortunately, he has the statistics to prove it.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.