It’s basic common sense to protect personal property from theft, particularly expensive property. It’s even more important to protect personal property that can be used to kill people or facilitate other crimes.
And yet an alarming number of guns are stolen every year in South Carolina. A recent Post and Courier story by Gregory Yee revealed that at least 372 guns have been stolen from cars in the tri-county area this year, according to law enforcement records.
For obvious reasons, a person willing to steal a gun is almost certainly more likely to use that gun irresponsibly than a person willing to go through the proper channels to obtain one. So gun thefts tend to contribute to other crime problems.
That means the impact of stolen guns extends far beyond the people who lose the guns themselves, even though in many cases that can be a costly loss.
South Carolina has relatively strict laws about carrying guns in cars, even for people with concealed weapons permits. Following those laws — along with no-brainer fixes like locking car doors — would help cut down on the number of weapons stolen from vehicles.
There aren’t any laws, however, about how guns should be stored at home. It’s worth considering some basic requirements about locking weapons up when not in use, particularly in homes with small children.
But perhaps the easiest way to get a better handle on stolen guns would be for South Carolina to mandate reporting a theft to law enforcement.
Past efforts in the state Legislature have stumbled in part on privacy-related concerns that such a requirement would be tantamount to a gun registry. That’s an illogical claim for a few reasons, however.
For one thing, the “registry” in question would be of guns that a person doesn’t own anymore, not of guns they do. Reporting a gun stolen also increases the likelihood, however slight, that it eventually might be returned to its rightful owner.
And it’s possible that having some sort of basic records of responsible gun ownership would be useful for safety reasons — both for law enforcement officers and the gun owners themselves. Tragic mix-ups have resulted from confusion and miscommunication about the presence of weapons in a household or vehicle.
But again, some sort of registration process isn’t necessary to help get a better sense of what kind of illegal guns are floating around and how many of them are out there. We just need to know when and where thefts occur.
After all, needed efforts to pass sensible gun reforms won’t be particularly meaningful if hundreds of guns illegally end up in the wrong hands each year in the Charleston area alone.
That’s why it’s so important to keep guns locked in a safe place — and to let the police know if they are stolen.