Florida is an accommodating place for legal gun owners, but that gun-friendly climate has yielded too many opportunities for criminals. Over the last decade, at least 82,000 guns have been stolen from private owners and gun shops that have not been recovered. Good guys' guns are ending up in bad hands, and stopping that will require a larger measure of personal responsibility by law-abiding gun owners. Anyone who keeps a gun in an unlocked car is part of the problem.
In a Tampa Bay Times project titled "Unlocked and Loaded," done in partnership with Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting, Times reporter Laura Morel examined the state's epidemic of stolen guns. The numbers are stunning: The 82,000 guns stolen and not recovered since 2007 translates to a gun for every man, woman and child in the city of Largo — and it's a conservative estimate. The real figure is likely much higher, because gun owners are not required to report thefts. Just in Tampa Bay, 9,000 guns were stolen and are still missing. The two main suppliers of this underground market are lawful gun owners and gun retailers who fail to adequately secure their weapons.
Law enforcement officials told Morel that the most common way guns go missing is by being easily pilfered out of unlocked cars. In the city of Jacksonville, more than 1,000 guns were stolen from unsecured cars in two years. That's 1,000 guns in the possession of criminals that can be used to commit more crimes. As one gun expert told the Times, "Gun owners are arming people we really don't want to have guns."
Similar to the juvenile car theft epidemic in Pinellas County, this is a problem that could be immediately reduced if people would simply lock their cars. Yet the response from one gun rights group seems to shirk that responsibility. Eric Friday, with Florida Carry, called gun owners whose weapons are stolen "victims" and absurdly compared a stolen gun to a laptop that is stolen and used to commit identity fraud. A deadly weapon is not a laptop, and groups such as Florida Carry should be leading the call for law-abiding gun owners to work harder to ensure their guns don't end up in the hands of criminals.
Gun dealers are the other favorite target of thieves, who enjoy "one-stop shopping" at stores that leave guns on walls and in glass display cases overnight. The thieves smash doors, drill through walls and drive into storefronts, and in under a minute they can make off with a small cache. Florida law doesn't require shop owners to store their guns in safes or take other precautions. The insurance industry could help fill the gap by offering significant coverage discounts to retailers that secure their stocks. Otherwise, it's left to local law enforcement to try to educate retailers one by one. A state law requiring commonsense security measures would be far more effective.
Left unaddressed, stolen guns will continue to take a terrible toll on communities. When Tarpon Springs police Officer Charles Kondek was killed in the line of duty in 2014, the shooter used a stolen gun that had been taken from an unlocked car months earlier in Jacksonville. The Florida Legislature, tireless in its annual efforts to allow more guns in more places, should pass sensible legislation that requires gun retailers to harden their stores against theft. And law-abiding gun owners must exercise their Second Amendment rights responsibly by locking their cars and securing their firearms.