Posted on May 21, 2012
Click here to see current summaries of all fifty states’ laws in this area.
The following material has bee updated from the Law Center’s February 2008 edition of Regulating Guns in America – An Evaluation and Comparative Analysis of Federal, State and Selected Local Gun Laws.
Laws that require firearm owners to report lost or stolen firearms serve several public safety functions. These laws help deter gun trafficking and discourage straw purchasing, as well as assist lawful gun owners by facilitating the recovery of their lost or stolen property.
Laws requiring the reporting of lost or stolen guns deter gun trafficking (the diversion of firearms from the legal to illegal market) by providing to law enforcement indicators of trafficking and straw purchasing.1 When a gun is found at a crime scene and traced by law enforcement back to the original purchaser, that gun owner may falsely claim that the gun was lost or stolen to hide their involvement in trafficking or straw purchasing. Reporting laws put law enforcement on notice of such suspicious patterns of behavior by persons who repeatedly fail to file reports yet claim that their guns were lost or stolen after they are recovered from a crime scene. In addition, reporting laws put law enforcement on notice of persons who repeatedly report their guns lost or stolen, another indicator that the person may be trafficking firearms or engaging in straw purchasing.
Reporting laws make gun owners more accountable for their weapons, and protect gun owners by preventing unwarranted criminal accusations against owners who suffer thefts or losses. The requirement also protects law-abiding gun owners by making it easier for law enforcement to locate a lost or stolen firearm and return it to its owner. Timely reporting of gun thefts or losses enables police to trace guns more effectively, and makes the successful prosecution of users of stolen guns more likely.
Stolen guns also supply the market for crime guns. A 2002 Americans for Gun Safety (AGS)2 study found that between January 1993 and August 2002 nearly 1.7 million firearms were reported stolen.3 Of those stolen guns, over one million remained missing.4 The actual number of gun thefts likely is much larger than reported. Survey research indicates that at least 500,000 firearms are stolen annually from residences.5 The number of guns stolen likely is much higher than the number reported stolen.6
Many stolen guns are used to commit other crimes. A U.S. Department of the Treasury study revealed that nearly a quarter of ATF gun trafficking investigations involved stolen firearms and were associated with over 11,000 trafficked firearms – including 10% percent of the investigations which involved guns stolen from residences.7 A 1997 U.S. Department of Justice survey found that 8.4% of state prison inmates who used or possessed a firearm during the offense for which they were incarcerated obtained the gun from the illegal market.8
Summary of Federal Law
Federal law does not require individual gun owners or other lawful possessors of firearms to report the loss or theft of a firearm to law enforcement.
Federal law requires that licensed firearms dealers report the loss or theft of any firearm from the dealer’s inventory to the U.S. Attorney General or local law enforcement within 48 hours of discovering the loss or theft.9
SUMMARY OF STATE LAWS GOVERNING REPORTING OF
LOST OR STOLEN FIREARMS
(This summary was last updated October 17, 2012.)
Seven states and the District of Columbia require firearm owners to report the loss or theft of their firearms to law enforcement. New Jersey has also adopted a relevant law, as described below.
Mandatory Loss/Theft Reporting
Civil Liability for Stolen Firearms
Description of State Laws Governing Reporting of Lost or Stolen Firearms:
1. States that Require Loss/Theft Reporting: In New York and Rhode Island, owners must report the loss or theft of any firearm to local law enforcement within 24 hours of discovery. In New York, the report must include “the facts and circumstances of the loss or theft.” Local law enforcement in New York then reports the information to the state police. New Jersey requires owners to report the loss or theft of any firearm to local law enforcement where the loss or theft occurred (or to the Superintendent of State Police if the locality has no police force) within 36 hours of discovery. Connecticut’s reporting requirement applies to any firearm19 or assault weapon, requiring owners to report to local law enforcement within 72 hours of when they discovered or should have discovered the loss or theft. Local law enforcement in Connecticut reports the information to the state police.
In Massachusetts, firearm owners are required to report the loss or theft of any firearm “forthwith” to the state police and the local licensing authority. Penalties for a violation of the Massachusetts law include suspension or permanent revocation of the owners’ firearm identification card or license to carry firearms.
The District of Columbia’s law applies to any registered firearm, and applies “immediately” upon discovery of the loss or theft. The owner must report the circumstances of the loss or theft, if known. Registration certificates are revoked if the owner fails to report a lost or stolen firearm a second time.
Ohio law penalizes anyone who knowingly fails to report “to law enforcement authorities forthwith” the loss or theft of any firearm “in the person’s possession or under the person’s control.”
Michigan’s law applies only to thefts of firearms, which must be reported within five days of discovery to a “police agency having jurisdiction over that theft.”20
2. Civil Liability for Stolen Firearms: In New Jersey, if a registered assault weapon is used in the commission of a crime, the registered owner of that weapon is civilly liable for any damages resulting from that crime. This liability does not apply if the assault weapon was stolen and the registered owner reported the theft to law enforcement within 24 hours of his or her knowledge of the theft.
EXEMPLARY LOCAL LAW
In 2007, the City of Sacramento, California joined the rising number of California localities that have enacted ordinances requiring firearm owners to report lost or stolen firearms. Sacramento’s ordinance makes it unlawful for any person who owns or possesses a firearm to “knowingly or negligently” fail to report such loss or theft. The person must report this information to the Sacramento Police Department within 48 hours of when the person “knew or should have known” that the firearm was lost or stolen. This requirement applies when the owner or possessor resides in the City, or the theft or loss of the firearm occurred in the City. A violation of this requirement is a misdemeanor.
FEATURES OF COMPREHENSIVE LAW REQUIRING THE REPORTING OF LOST OR STOLEN FIREARMS
The features listed below are intended to provide a framework from which policy options may be considered and debated. The Law Center has not attempted to include every provision or every creative approach identified in the analysis above, nor have we addressed appropriate exceptions so that the regulation does not produce unintended consequences. A jurisdiction considering modifying existing, or developing new legislation in this area should consult with counsel to ensure its legal sufficiency and compatibility with existing codes and statutes, as appropriate.
- Firearm owners are required to report the loss or theft of any firearm as soon as possible after discovery, either immediately or within 24 hours of discovery (Ohio, District of Columbia)
- The duty to report is triggered at the time the firearm owner knew or should have known that the firearm was lost or stolen (Connecticut, Sacramento)
- Require owners of firearms lost or stolen (and not recovered) within a designated time period prior to the adoption of the law to report to law enforcement within a reasonable period22
- Reporting requirements should apply to all firearm types (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, District of Columbia, Sacramento)
- Lost and stolen firearms are reported to local and state law enforcement (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York)
- Firearm owners are subject to civil liability for failure to report a lost or stolen firearm that is later used in crime (New Jersey — assault weapons only)
- Reporting of lost or stolen firearms is a condition of any license or registration required by the jurisdiction, and license/registration is subject to revocation for failure to report (District of Columbia, Massachusetts)
- A “straw purchaser” is a person who buys firearms on behalf of a convicted felon, juvenile or other prohibited purchaser. [↩]
- Americans for Gun Safety is no longer an independent organization, but is now an initiative within Third Way, which describes itself as a “non-profit, non-partisan strategy center for progressives.” [↩]
- Americans for Gun Safety, Stolen Firearms: Arming the Enemy 6, 8 (Dec. 2002). This equates to 16.8 stolen firearms for every 1,000 U.S. households. [↩]
- Id. at 6. [↩]
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Following the Gun: Enforcing Federal Laws Against Firearms Traffickers xi, 41 (June 2000), at http://www.atf.gov/pub/fire-explo_pub/pdf/followingthegun_internet.pdf. [↩]
- Bureau of Justice Statistics Selected Findings, U.S. Department of Justice, Firearms, Crime, and Criminal Justice: Guns Used in Crime 3 (July 1995), at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/guic.pdf. [↩]
- Following the Gun: Enforcing Federal Laws Against Firearms Traffickers, supra note 5, at 11, 41. [↩]
- Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, U.S. Department of Justice, Firearm Use by Offenders: Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities 6 (Nov. 2001), at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/fuo.pdf. [↩]
- 18 U.S.C. § 923(g)(6). [↩]
- Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53-202g. [↩]
- D.C. Code Ann. §§ 7-2502.08(a)(1). [↩]
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 129C. [↩]
- Mich. Comp. Laws § 28.430. [↩]
- N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-19. [↩]
- N.Y. Penal Law § 400.10. [↩]
- Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2923.20(A)(5), (B). [↩]
- R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-47-48.1. [↩]
- N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-12(g). [↩]
- Connecticut law defines “firearm” to include any sawed-off shotgun, machine gun, rifle, shotgun, pistol, revolver or other weapon, whether loaded or unloaded, from which a shot may be discharged. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-3(19). [↩]
- Mich. Comp. Laws § 28.430(1). [↩]
- Sacramento Municipal Code § 9.32.180. [↩]
- Los Angeles’s ordinance required owners of firearms lost or stolen within five years prior to the adoption of the ordinance to report the loss or theft within 60 days of the law’s adoption. Los Angeles Municipal Code ch. V, art. 5, § 55.12 (effective December 3, 2006). [↩]