Responsible gun ownership means storing weapons securely away from children and obtaining proper safety training. It also must include keeping firearms from being stolen and ending up on the street. Yet in St. Petersburg, which is experiencing an alarming spike in homicides, 111 guns have been stolen from mostly unsecured cars. Stemming the violence starts with keeping guns out of criminal hands.
St. Petersburg is in the midst of a bloody year, with 20 murders on the books just halfway through 2021. Police say overall crime is down, but the shootings continue. The city has already surpassed the 2020 murder toll of 15 and is on pace to break the gruesome record of 30 set in 2005.
That’s all the more troubling considering that 150 guns have been stolen throughout the city this year, another potentially record-breaking pace. And of the 150, 111 were left in cars that police say were almost all left unlocked. The connection: People with stolen guns generally sell them to others who wouldn’t normally be able to legally buy a firearm after a background check. So they end up in exactly the wrong hands, circulating on the street, at the ready for criminal use. They also land in the hands of juvenile car thieves, a potently dangerous population to be walking around armed.
Yet vehicle burglaries are largely a crime of opportunity, meaning absent the opportunity the crime doesn’t happen. If a car is locked, the thief moves on. If a car is unlocked but the glove box is empty, the thief moves on. It’s an easy and common-sense step to not leave a weapon in an unlocked car.
Police and city leaders are ready to pull out all the stops to curb the trend, with City Councilmember Brandi Gabbard even asking whether gun owners whose firearms are stolen and used in the commission of a crime could face criminal penalties themselves. No such penalties exist — imposing them would be an overreaction and could discourage owners from reporting thefts. But it’s important to recognize the critical role that legal gun owners have in preventing illegal gun activity.
Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun violence prevention and awareness group, lists five key elements of responsible gun ownership: secure gun storage, owner safety training, smart guns and gun safety features, reporting of lost and stolen guns to law enforcement, and education of gun owners about the risks so they’ll dutifully employ the first four steps.
St. Petersburg is devoting resources to violence prevention programs to stop the killings and community outreach efforts that build trust in police, as Councilmember Deborah Figgs-Sanders has urged. Councilmembers also want to employ public education initiatives and announcements imploring gun owners to take simple precautions. Responsible gun owners already know what not to do, but it bears repeating: Don’t leave your gun in an unlocked car.
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