Before Keith Lamont Scott was fatally shot by Charlotte police, he purchased a gun that had been stolen during a residential break-in, law enforcement officials told local news outlets this week. Scott was holding the weapon, a Colt .380 Mustang, when he died, police say.
Investigators have not released details about the burglary, but the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has struggled to rein in a surge of similar cases. Local police took reports on 1,270 stolen guns last year, a 42 percent increase over 2014, when 892 were reported stolen, an investigation by The Trace found.
Scott’s September 20 death set off a wave of protests and became another litmus test for the use of force by police. His family maintains he wasn’t armed, and video evidence is inconclusive. Police have said he refused to drop his firearm when ordered to do so and that he posed an “imminent threat.”
Gun thefts peaked in Charlotte in 2007, when 1,724 were reported stolen. They dropped markedly in the four years that followed, hitting a low of 839 in 2011. The number of gun thefts varied in the years after that but never surpassed the 1,000 mark — until last year.
Of the nearly 50 large cities that provided 2015 data to The Trace, Charlotte ranked third-highest in the number of reported gun thefts. It trailed only Jacksonville, Florida, which had 1,825 reported thefts, and Las Vegas, which had 2,470. A survey by researchers at Harvard and Northeastern Universities, slated for publication next year, estimates that between 300,000 and 600,000 guns are stolen in the U.S. every year. At the high end, that’s more than one per minute. Many of these weapons end up in criminal networks. Some are sold to people, like Scott, who have been convicted of a felony and are not allowed to legally purchase a firearm.
Scott had a lengthy criminal history that included convictions for driving while intoxicated and assault with a deadly weapon in South Carolina. He also served an eight-year prison sentence in Texas for shooting a man he believed was threatening his family. He was released in 2011, but as a convicted felon, he was barred from owning a firearm.
Scott’s wife obtained a protective order in October of last year, saying in the application that her husband owned a gun and had threatened to kill his family. The order was dismissed later that month when Scott’s wife said he was no longer a threat.
Scott is not the only person with a stolen gun to have been killed by police. Just last month, Milwaukee officers fatally shot Sylville Smith, 23, after he brandished a handgun that had been stolen out of a home in the nearby city of Waukesha. And in Atlanta last year, Alexia Christian, 26, was killed after she escaped from her handcuffs in the backseat of a police car and opened fire on officers with a stolen .380-caliber Taurus handgun that she had hidden on her.
[Photo: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department via AP]