Illegal guns seized from a multistate trafficking ring on display...

Illegal guns seized from a multistate trafficking ring on display at the Dennison Building in Hauppauge in February 2020. Credit: James Carbone

A few days into the new year we were ambling the circular street my mother-in-law has called home for 60 years, when she spied a county sheriff's cruiser and said, "What could have happened?"

This being Prosperity, South Carolina, my wife and her mother then applied knowledge of the neighbors' marital and legal histories to guessing.

It had to be significant, because Prosperity has its own police for minor crime. The Sheriff’s Department implied big doings.

A few days later, my wife got word: A rash of car break-ins on "the circle" brought out officers from both agencies. Chief Wesley Palmore later told me none of the six cars rifled had been locked.

Two of the six cars had handguns stolen from them.

It’s shocking that one-third of the thefts included a stolen gun, but a sample size so tiny can’t mean much.

Still, it was enough to spark curiosity. And it turns out those easy thefts of deadly weapons are shockingly common in states with lax gun laws.

In North Carolina during one week last summer, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department reported 31 car break-ins in the nightlife-heavy "Uptown" section of the city. Owners reported 17 guns stolen out of those 31 cars.

In the first five months of 2021, there were 4,100 car break-ins in and around Charlotte, with 446 guns stolen.

And Atlanta’s tally of 1,795 guns stolen from cars in the first 11 months of 2021 dwarfs Charlotte’s.

Flash forward to Jan. 10, when Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder held a news conference to announce the county confiscated 117 illegal weapons. Ryder said at least eight had been reported stolen. Federal data shows about 380,000 guns are stolen in the United States annually, but only 240,000 thefts are reported.

Flash forward to Jan. 21, when NYPD officers Wilbert Mora and Jason Rivera were gunned down in a Harlem apartment by Lashawn McNeil, wielding a gun that had been reported stolen in Baltimore.

A 2016 report from the New York State Attorney General's office said 74% of guns used in crimes in New York between 2010 and 2015 came from states with weak gun laws, often via "straw buyers" who purchase cheap Southern guns and deliver them to New York.

New York can’t fix that itself. And "fix" is the wrong idea, anyway.

When President Joe Biden visited with NYC Mayor Eric Adams last week to discuss gun violence, the president demanded that Congress increase federal grants to law enforcement agencies by $300 million and send out $200 million for community violence intervention programs. The problem: Similar moves have failed to help in the past.

But we can make progress by making illegal guns hard to get, thus making them too expensive for most criminals.

  • Start with a federal law that bans leaving guns unsecured where they can be easily stolen or used by children, and that requires stolen guns be reported.
  • Fix the federal law banning "straw purchases," the buying of guns legally to sell them illegally, which demands intent to sell the gun to a specific buyer. The law should state that if you buy it legally and sell it illegally, that’s straw buying. And the current 10-year maximum sentence should rise.
  • Ditto the penalty on the federal crime of selling a gun to a felon, also currently a 10-year maximum.

These steps would begin to limit availability of illegal guns, raising prices. And New York’s gun problem, which won’t improve as long as they’re running wild down south, might begin to ease.

Columnist Lane Filler's opinions are his own.

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