In December, 1997, I was visiting family in California. My thoughts at the time were reserved for the imminent birth of my second child and thus far away from my Puget Sound area home that was being blanketed with record snowfall.
Unfortunately, the snow that accumulated in my driveway for a week proved a tempting target for two roving meth addicts looking for empty houses. The tweakers loaded up their vehicle (and my car), and took everything. With apologies to Dr. Seuss, the twitchy grinches took more than just pop-guns and pantookas – the burglars found my gun safe, pulled it out of the wall, and made off with my department issued handgun and rifle.
That is the story of how I joined the legion of gun owners who accidentally armed the criminal element.
“Outing” myself as a past victim of burglary is a means of illustrating the potential risks involved in gun ownership. According to the website Accurateshooter.com, U.S. firearms manufacturers produced 5.9 million firearms in 2009 alone, including hand guns (revolvers and semi-auto pistols) and long guns (shotguns and rifles). Domestic firearms are well made products designed to function properly for several years.
So do the math. Start by adding up the millions of guns produced each year, subtract the few that either fall apart, whither away in safes or rest quietly on evidence shelves, and see what kind of number you get.
The answer is that the number of guns that remain viable is huge. By viable I refer to the fact that the primary means by which criminals arm themselves is by stealing guns.
The black market for firearms is a thriving business. I have noticed little change in the number of weapons seized by law enforcement even during this bleak economy. What was true before also remains true now – most of the seized weapons are stolen.
Stolen weapons taken off gang members. Stolen weapons found in search warrants. Stolen weapons found at crime scenes. When I hear someone query the dispatcher on a firearm, I find myself doing a mental, “3,2,1” until the answer returns that the weapon is, of course, stolen.
Criminals obtain stolen weapons in two basic ways: they steal them or they buy them. Gang members, who often establish their credibility by simply possessing a gun, are especially adept at finding and targeting the homes of individuals whom they suspect of having weapons (including cops). Serial burglars steal firearms because the black market for firearms is very lucrative. Large scale heists from gun stores (which occurred recently in our area) quickly inundate the streets with new and high-powered firearms. If criminals don’t want to steal a gun themselves, they can find always find someone willing to sell a stolen firearm.
Despite this fact, people are much more interested in discussing gun control legislation than gun security. Recently, the Trib ran a piece by a Washington Post columnist on the topic of the ranger’s homicide at Mt. Rainier. The writer was quick to point out that Washington’s concealed weapon’s restrictions are lax in comparison to much of the U.S. Then, in the written equivalent of a mumble, he mentions that this fact had little or nothing to do with the tragedy itself. So why mention it?
Firearms security is a topic that never seems to generate much interest or discussion. Perhaps the topic of trigger locks or gun safes don’t have polling numbers worth making it an issue. I also can not understand why gun owners who strictly adhere to the laws regarding possession sometimes do such a poor job securing their weapons at home.
If we want to do more to ensure that guns don’t fall into the wrong hands – hands that include criminals as well as curious children – we would do best to make sure they don’t slip out of the right ones. Lock them up.
Epilogue: The two tweakers who stole my weapons, truck and worldly possessions were both caught by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office (thanks again, Sgt Cassio).