Rounds

News and notes on guns in America

In Texas, The Trace’s Gun Theft Investigation Spurs Proposals to Track Stolen Firearms

A Houston gun violence commission assembled after the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School cited a joint investigation by The Trace and NBC in calling for legislation requiring gun owners to report lost and stolen firearms to authorities.

Dozens of school safety recommendations have been unveiled in Texas in the months since a 17-year-old used his father’s guns to kill eight students and two teachers at the school in May. The Houston report, released on August 1, marks the second time that Texas officials have drawn on The Trace and NBC’s investigation into stolen firearms to fashion proposals aimed at tackling gun violence. The proposal was identical to one put forward by Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican who risked antagonizing the National Rifle Association by signaling support for criminal penalties on gun owners who failed to alert police to lost or stolen weapons.

Gun-violence-prevention advocates have championed lost-and-stolen reporting requirements as a means to prevent such tragedies by giving officers a better chance of locating missing weapons before their use in a crime. But gun-rights groups have vigorously opposed the requirements, arguing that the laws would re-victimize gun owners by penalizing them for the actions of thieves.

The proposals urge state lawmakers to pass legislation requiring owners to report lost or stolen guns within 10 days. Under the law, violations would be punished as a Class C misdemeanor, exposing scofflaws to a fine of up to $500. The legislation could encourage reporting by limiting the liability of gun owners if their missing weapons were used in a crime, the proposals said.

In making their recommendations, the Houston commission and Abbott’s office cited our yearlong investigation. The Trace, in partnership with more than a dozen local NBC TV stations, linked thousands of stolen guns to crimes in cities and counties around the country, including hundreds in Texas. The governor’s report pointed specifically to Austin, where The Trace and NBC found that lost or stolen guns were involved in at least 600 criminal offenses between 2010 and 2015, including more than 60 robberies, assaults and murders.

Previously unpublished federal statistics obtained by The Trace and NBC underline gun theft as a surging issue in Texas. The number of guns reported stolen in the Lone Star State nearly doubled between 2007 and 2016, from at least 13,225 to at least 26,004, according to the National Crime Information Center, an FBI database used to track stolen property. Overall, at least 186,548 firearms were reported stolen in Texas over that 10-year period, more than any other state in the nation.

Stolen guns are often recovered only after they become instruments of crime. A 9mm Sig Sauer pistol stolen out of the center console of a pickup truck in 2011 was used two years later to fatally shoot a 34-year-old man in the head in Austin. A similar handgun stolen from a Ford Mustang in 2014 surfaced one month later after a robber stormed into a restaurant in Midland and fired shots into the ceiling, sending patrons scrambling under their tables for cover. In Lubbock, a firearm snatched from a car wound up in the hands of a suspected drug dealer who was shot by police last year when he threatened officers with the gun.

But any statistics on the number of guns reported stolen are surely an undercount. Most states, including Texas, do not mandate the reporting of missing weapons to police. And in states that do have such a requirement, the laws are rarely enforced.