May, 7 2007
LOST OR STOLEN FIREARM LEGISLATION AND VIOLENT CRIME STATISTICS
By: Veronica Rose, Principal Analyst
Zachary Schurin, Legislative Fellow
You want to know (1) what states require gun owners to file police reports if their firearms are lost or stolen, as is required under Connecticut's Senate Bill 903; (2) how effective the laws have been in reducing “straw” purchases; and (3) whether such states have lower crime rates than Connecticut.
At least four states— Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Rhode Island—require gun owners to file a police report if their guns are lost or stolen and impose criminal penalties for failure to file within deadlines. Legislation requiring such reports is pending in several other states, including California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. The laws, according to advocates, are designed to target straw purchasers (people who buy guns intending to sell them to people prohibited from buying or possessing guns). Opponents say they penalize legitimate gun owners.
Of the four states with reporting requirements, Ohio alone imposes a prison term for failure to report (90 days for knowingly failing to report). The other states impose fines of up to $500. Under the Connecticut bill (sSB 903), the penalty for failure to report ranges from a $90 infraction for a first offense to a class C felony (punishable by up to 10 years in prison) for a third offense.
Bills in three of the five states with pending legislation impose prison terms on gun owners who fail to report if their guns are lost or stolen. These are Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania bill imposes the most stringent penalties. Under the bill, a person who intentionally fails to file a report is subject to a prison term of up to seven years for a second offense.
As far as we have been able to determine, based on a survey of the literature and information from officials in Michigan, New York, and Ohio, none of these states has any comprehensive data on the effect of the laws on straw purchases. Rhode Island did not provide any information.
According to U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) data, the 2005 violent crime rate per 100,000 people for Connecticut and the four states with reporting requirements was as follows: Connecticut, 274.5; Michigan, 552.1; New York, 445.8; Ohio, 351.3; and Rhode Island 251.2. The percentage of violent crimes involving firearm use was as follows: Connecticut, 22%; Michigan, 32%; New York, 21%; Ohio, 31%; and Rhode Island, 20%. It is difficult to draw conclusions about the impact of the gun reporting legislation on crime rates because of the number of variables involved, including the level of enforcement.
PROPOSED CONNECTICUT LEGISLATION
A Connecticut bill (sSB 903, File No. 613) subjects people lawfully possessing firearms to criminal penalties if they do not store them in a manner that limits the risk that they will be lost, stolen, or otherwise come into the possession of an unauthorized person. The risk must be of such nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation. The bill requires those whose firearms are lost or stolen to file a police report within 72 hours.
The bill makes failure to report an infraction if the firearm is seized or recovered by a law enforcement agency. A first offense is punishable by a fine of up to $90. A second offense is a class D felony, punishable by imprisonment for up to five years, a fine of up to $5,000, or both. Any subsequent offense is a class C felony, punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
Michigan requires any gun owner whose gun is stolen to file a police report with the police agency having jurisdiction (Mich. Stat. Ann. § 28.430). Failure to report is a violation, punishable by a civil fine of up to $500.
This law is rarely used to punish straw purchasers, according to the Michigan Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council. Typically, according to the council, the state prosecutes straw purchasers under gun licensing laws that impose criminal penalties on gun buyers who fail to register their guns or sell them without registration.
New York requires that anyone whose firearm is lost or stolen file a police report within 24 hours of discovering the loss or theft giving the facts and circumstances (N. Y. Penal Law § 400.10(a)). A violation is punishable by a fine of up to $100.
Neither the New York State Police nor the New York Department of Public Safety was able to provide us with information on prosecutions under this statute.
Ohio requires anyone whose firearm is lost or stolen to immediately file a police report (Ohio Code Ann. § 2923.20). Knowingly failing to file this report is a 2nd degree misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment for up to 90 days, a fine of up to $750, or both (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 2929.24 and 2929.28).
According to the Ohio Department of Public Safety, few, if any, statewide prosecutions have been made under this statute. The department had no local data on prosecutions.
Under Rhode Island law, anyone whose firearm is lost or stolen must report the loss or theft to the local law enforcement agency within 24 hours after discovering it. A knowing violation carries a fine of $50 to $100 (R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-47-48.1).
Rhode Island officials have not responded to our request for information on enforcement of this statute.
PENDING LEGISLATION IN OTHER STATES
California, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania are considering legislation mandating reports of lost or stolen firearms.
Bill A.B. 334 requires anyone whose handgun is lost or stolen to file a report with local law enforcement officials within five working days after he or she discovered or should reasonably have discovered the loss or theft. Failure to report is an infraction. The bill requires that gun dealers provide specific notice of the requirement to people buying handguns after July 1, 2008. It allows local governments to enact stricter reporting requirements than the state.
An owner who complies with the bill's reporting requirement is immune from civil liability for illicit use or possession of the firearm occurring after the theft or loss, as long as he or she did not know of the misconduct beforehand and was not negligent with respect to the theft or loss of the firearm.
The governor vetoed a similar bill in 2006 on the grounds that it punished victims of gun theft and allowed local governments to pass ordinances that differ from state law. By allowing such ordinances, it left law-abiding citizens to decipher conflicting laws and eroded the state's ability to regulate handguns statewide, according to the governor.
House Bill 1696 allows the Illinois State Police to revoke the Firearm Identification Card (required to purchase firearms in Illinois) of anyone whose firearm is lost or stolen and who fails to file a police report to that effect. A first violation is a petty offense. Any subsequent violation is a class A misdemeanor, publishable by imprisonment for up to one year, a fine of up to $2,500, or both.
Senate Bill 902 requires anyone whose gun is lost or stolen to file a police report within 72 hours with the law enforcement agency that has primary jurisdiction.
A gun owner who knows or had reason to know of the theft or loss and fails to report it is guilty of a misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $700, imprisonment for up to 90 days, or both for a first offense. Any subsequent violation is a gross misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $3,000, imprisonment of up to one year, or both. Intentional failure to report is a gross misdemeanor, except that if the person had been previously convicted of failing to report, it is a felony, which is punishable by imprisonment of up to two years, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
Bill A. 541 requires any gun owner whose gun is stolen to file a police report within 72 hours in the town where the theft occurred or with the State Police. A first violation is punishable by a civil fine of $500 and any subsequent violation by a $1,000 fine.
House Bill 29 requires any gun owner whose gun is lost or stolen to file a police report within 24 hours after discovering the loss or theft. An unintentional failure to report is punishable by a fine of up to $500. But if the failure is intentional, (1) a first offense is a 1st degree misdemeanor, punishable by a prison term of up to five years and (2) any subsequent offense is a 3rd degree felony punishable by a prison term of up to seven years, a fine of up to $15,000, or both (Pa. Stat. Ann., Crime Code § 106).
VIOLENT CRIME STATISTICS
Under the U.S. Department of Justice uniform crime reporting (UCR) program (available at http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/05cius/index.html), violent crime consists of four types of offenses: (1) murder and non-negligent manslaughter, (2) forcible rape (3) robbery, and (4) aggravated assault. Statistics on the use of firearms in the commission of violent crime do not include forcible rape.
According to UCR statistics, the 2005 violent crime rate per 100,000 people for Connecticut and the four states we identified with reporting requirements was as follows: Connecticut, 274.5; Michigan, 552.1; New York, 445.8; Ohio, 351.3; and Rhode Island 251.2.
The percentage of violent crimes involving firearm use was as follows: Connecticut, 22%; Michigan, 32%, New York, 21%, Ohio, 31%; and Rhode Island, 20%. (The figures do not include forcible rape crimes because data on the use of weapons in the commission of forcible rape are not provided in the UCR.)
1. Copies of all the legislation are attached
2. See OLR Report 2007-R-0211 for more detailed summaries of the legislation.