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February 17th, 2010
10:00 AM ET

The Gun Trail: Tracking guns that go missing

Editor's Note: There is a major fight going on at the local level over a new law intended to keep guns out of criminal hands. Critics say it's just another case of legislating against the legal and responsible gun owners. Our Ed Lavandera has the report for part three of our American Morning original series, "The Gun Trail."

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Ed Lavandera reports on a controversial law about tracking lost and stolen guns."]

By Ed Lavandera, CNN

Jana Finder says not enough is being done to keep illegally trafficked guns off Pennsylvania's streets. This might be the heart of northeastern gun country.

Finder, along with a group called "Ceasefire PA," has launched a grassroots campaign to get local governments to sign on to what's become a highly controversial law, called "lost and stolen" ordinances.

Supporters of gun rights hate it. The ordinances require gun owners to report if their weapons have been lost or stolen, usually within 24 hours.

"There is very strong support from law officers,” says Finder. "They've told us this kind of requirement would give them another investigative tool to help crackdown and reduce the numbers of illegal handguns on our streets."

Watch "The Gun Trail" part three Video

Finder says these laws target the number one source of guns for criminals – people with clean records who buy guns then supply them to street criminals; so-called "straw purchasers."

The battle over these ordinances is being waged in small towns all across Pennsylvania, in city council chambers like one we visited in Duqeusne, Pennsylvania.

Duquesne's city council was one of the latest to get behind it. So far, 25 Pennsylvania cities have adopted the ordinance.

"I think that doing this gives us a chance, maybe, to reduce violence in the city," says Phil Krivacek, Duqeusne’s mayor.

That "maybe" in the mayor's answer is what infuriates gun rights activists like Kim Stolfer and his grassroots group "Firearms Owners Against Crime."

"To come up with an idea and adopt it based on well, it might work is ridiculous. We wouldn't get into an airplane that might fly," says Stolfer. "The real problem here is that it's not illegal to lose a firearm, it's not illegal to have it stolen, but they want to prosecute you for being in that situation."

Supporters of the “lost and stolen” ordinance say it's a way of keeping a tighter watch on guns that go missing.

Gun control advocates say shootings have become too frequent across Pennsylvania. Six law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty last year alone. One police officer, Michael Crawshaw, was murdered with an AK-47 in a neighborhood outside of Pittsburgh. Investigators say the suspect was wearing an ankle bracelet – a parolee on drug and gun charges.

So far, more than 100 police departments have signed on to the “lost and stolen” ordinances, but not everyone in law enforcement thinks it's the answer. Penn Hills Police Chief Howard Burton says "lost or stolen" is just another "feel good law" that wouldn't have saved Officer Michael Crawshaw.

"We still have to realize we're dealing with a criminal element. No matter how many laws are out there, they're still going to be broken," says Burton.

No one has been prosecuted or convicted for violating the “lost and stolen" ordinances. Several have just recently passed, others are tied up in the courts and haven't been implemented yet.

Filed under: Crime • The Gun Trail
soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. tom koch

    the first day cnn mentioned that 80 some applications for a gun were denied at the gun shop highlighted. what were the major reasons that these applications were denied?

    February 18, 2010 at 11:48 am |
  2. ronvan

    STUPID!!! My firearm (s) are missing/stolen. Doesn't a normal person noltify the police? Guess not! So I go to a gun shop/show & buy a handgun/rifle. Another person does the same and buys 10ea.! Doesn't that raise some questions? It really doesn't matter what state your in & that just brings up another set of problems. Until EVERYONE gets on the same sheet of music this will continue to be a problem.

    February 18, 2010 at 8:44 am |
  3. Panacea

    The advantage of this law is, cops can go after the straw buyers if their guns turn up in a series of crimes.

    February 17, 2010 at 5:56 pm |
  4. Ed Glaze

    Such “Lost and Stolen" ordinances not only violate Pennsylvania’s state preemption laws, but also turns law-abiding gun owners - who have already been victimized by theft - into criminals.

    According to Pittsburgh Gun Rights Examiner Dan Campbell:

    Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Title 18, PA Crimes Code, §6120. Limitation on the Regulation of Firearms and Ammunition precludes the regulation of “the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this Commonwealth” by counties and municipalities. Elected officials who act outside of, and in defiance of, the law are not accorded sovereign immunity protections. They may be exposing themselves both criminally and civilly as elected officials and as private individuals. Further, by assisting elected officials in passing such illegal laws the persons and organizations assisting such elected officials (cited above) may be charged with conspiracy and where applicable lose any licenses they hold.

    February 17, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
  5. LarryMN

    I'm trying to understand why CNN would be focusing on guns at this time. Yes, I'm a skeptic, and I'm thinking CNN could have some political angle here. Let's see, Obama's popularity is sinking and the Democrat congress is on the run and probably destined to lose big time in November, as things stand. So, why not take advantage of this closing window in time to push for more so-called "gun control." Could that be it? Or, maybe it's about trying to galvanize a base that's feared to be less than enthusiastic about voting this fall. That's another possibility. The one thing it really cannot be about is crime control.

    February 17, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
  6. Glen

    One reason CNN’s ratings are in the tank, and viewers are leaving in droves, is that CNN reporters seem to be incapable of getting to the core of the matter. “Tracking Stolen Guns?” The guns are missing. You cannot track them. Gun control people are trying to create laws that trap straw buyers into violating the reporting requirements, as they often claim a firearm they purchased was “stolen.” Unfortunately, they also trap anyone who doesn’t report a theft or doesn’t even know a firearm is missing. How much will all this cost, and what will it accomplish in reality? Will criminals stop stealing firearms or buying them through straw purchasers? No? Then what is the point?

    February 17, 2010 at 11:50 am |
  7. wyatt

    These ordinances will be another failed attempt to legislate something that can’t be legislated. People who legally own guns sell guns to others who may or may not be able to legally own a gun. The gun could be sold or traded to several more individuals. When that gun is used in a crime and traced back to the original owner, the original owner then claims the gun was lost or stolen, having no idea where it is now. These ordinances are an attempt to keep this scenario from happening.

    It won’t.

    Mr. Jackson do you own a .38 special?


    Where is it?

    It’s in my nightstand.

    Can we see it?


    Oops, I guess it’s been stolen.

    I need to report a stolen gun.

    This is why no one ever has been or ever will be prosecuted under these ordinances.

    February 17, 2010 at 11:24 am |