Like pies cooling on proverbial windowsills, firearms left poorly secured in gun shops have become appetizing targets for thieves. Now for the first time, members of Congress are trying to slam shut this criminal opportunity.
Currently, there is no federal law requiring gun stores to take measures to protect against theft, and fewer than 10 states have implemented their own rules. So the majority of America’s approximately 60,000 licensed firearms dealers can, if they wish, operate without so much as a lock on the door. The SECURE Firearm Storage Act, introduced Tuesday by Representative Brad Schneider, a Democrat from Illinois, would change that by compelling dealers to install specific minimum anti-theft measures.
The legislation arrives amid an unprecedented wave of gun store thefts. Last year, thieves stole a record-breaking 7,488 firearms in 558 break-ins across the country, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The tally represents a 59 percent increase in the number of weapons taken compared to 2015, and a 30 percent increase in the number of burglaries.
Stolen guns inherently supply the black market (it’s a federal crime to possess a stolen firearm), and many are not recovered until they turn up at a faraway crime scene. In 2015, for example, a handgun stolen from a Georgia firearms dealer was found 900 miles away in New York City, where it was used to murder a police officer.
Schneider’s bill would mandate that gun dealers store their weapons after hours affixed to a steel rod, or locked in a safe or vault. Sales records — on which traces of crime guns depend — would also have to be kept in a secured strong box. A third component of the legislation would empower the attorney general to mandate gun stores to take “other measures necessary to reduce the risk of theft,” including alarm systems, or bollards to repel the “smash and grab” jobs that are a common tactic employed by burglars. Prospective dealers would also have to submit a plan for store security to the ATF when applying for a license to sell firearms.
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Noncompliant sellers would be subject to fines up to $10,000 and could have their license to deal in firearms suspended or revoked.
The legislation would subject the gun industry to safe-storage requirements approaching those applied to the explosives industry, which is strictly regulated by the ATF. Businesses that manufacture or store explosives must keep certain dangerous materials in “storage magazines” — essentially super-secure boxes or rooms — capable of withstanding an explosion. Likewise, pharmacies that carry controlled substances are also legally required to store those drugs in steel safes whose specifications the Department of Justice lays out in exacting detail. Banks insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation must hire a security officer specifically charged with keeping facilities safe from theft.
Despite the public safety risks posed by the ongoing surge in gun-store thefts, the SECURE Act may be politically stillborn. Republicans closely allied with the National Rifle Association control both houses of Congress and the White House, making the bill’s advancement unlikely. The gun group has long opposed stricter laws for dealers, including state-level anti-theft requirements. And in keeping with the anti-regulatory fervor of the Trump administration, the ATF, which would enforce the laws Schneider proposes, has been looking for gun rules to eliminate, not new ones to impose.