Gun crime is a pervasive problem in the U.S.; 38,000 people lose their lives to gun violence every year. In Florida, relatively loose gun restrictions create a favorable environment for people to own them. Individuals seeking to purchase guns in Florida need to pass background checks to buy from shops, but they can easily purchase guns without a background check in private sales.
When it comes to securing weapons and practicing gun safety, the state has just one law on the books: Florida Statute 790.174, “Safe Storage of a Firearm Required.” Under this law, gun owners must keep their weapons secured in a locked box in a secure location or with a trigger lock on the gun if a minor is likely to have access to the gun in the owner’s home. The law makes no mention of proper gun safety techniques and does not address the common practice of leaving guns in vehicles. As a result, guns left in cars increasingly fall into the wrong hands.
Theft of Guns Occurs at Alarming Rates in Florida
In 2017 in the small city of Crestview, Florida, a 15-year old stole a loaded handgun from an unlocked car and used it to shoot a 13-year old at a bus stop. The owner of the gun did not face charges for leaving it loaded and unsecured. The Safe Storage law does not apply to situations in which minors steal guns. Under this law, the only time an adult may face repercussions for leaving an unsecured weapon on their property is if a child who lives in the home or is invited into it takes the unsecured weapon and uses or threatens to use it.
Similar situations are occurring at alarming rates in Palm Beach County. In 2019, eight of nine guns stolen from Palm Beach County’s top police jurisdictions came from unlocked cars rather than people’s homes or businesses. Thieves have found guns in unlocked cars without intentionally looking for them. In many instances, thieves use these weapons to commit more serious crimes.
How Often Do Thieves Target Cars in Florida?
Stealing from unlocked vehicles is a widespread phenomenon in Florida, particularly in the vast suburbs where cars sit enticingly on driveways with little to no supervision. Apartment complexes are also popular, due to a high concentration of vehicles in a relatively low-security area. Homeowners associations and landlords often warn residents about locking up their cars because reports of theft are rampant. Thieves who target unlocked cars target valuables like cash or electronics, and may or may not look for valuables before testing the car door. In some cases, thieves are finding loaded weapons as an added bonus to their crime spree.
Thieves Steal Guns from Cars More Often in Palm Beach
While analyzing the data, a disturbing trend emerged. Law enforcement officials determined that guns were being stolen from cars eight times more often than they were being stolen from people’s residences. Thieves targeting residential driveways, parking garages, and parking lots of hotels and restaurants frequently found that guns were ripe for the taking. All they had to do was tug on a door handle.
Delray Beach Police Lt. Darrell Hunter expressed concern for the trend. His department received 48 reports of guns stolen from vehicles in 2019, 39 of which were swiped from unlocked cars. He couldn’t explain why people were leaving their cars unlocked with guns inside them, but remarked that carelessness can have drastic consequences. “It’s putting more guns on the streets,” he said.
Records provided to the Palm Beach Post from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and other police agencies showed nearly 200 gun theft reports in vehicle burglaries for the first seven months of 2019, compared to 25 guns stolen in home burglaries.
Trends remained consistent through 2019, and didn’t change at the start of 2020—in Delray Beach, five guns were reported stolen from vehicles in January. In all, authorities don’t know the exact number of stolen guns in Florida, since state law does not require gun owners to report missing or stolen weapons.
Heavy Charges for Gun Crimes in Florida
Police in Palm Beach County have linked stolen guns to other crimes, like armed robbery. Other charges in connection to a stolen weapon may include:
- Attempted robbery
- False imprisonment
- Felon in possession of a firearm
These are serious felonies that may escalate due to the use of a firearm. In some cases, individuals convicted of these crimes may face mandatory minimum penalties.
Contact a Skilled Firearms Defense Lawyer
When you face heavy charges for offenses involving a firearm in the West Palm Beach area, you must carefully select your legal representation in criminal court. A criminal attorney with a proven track record and more than three decades of experience—like attorney Brian Gabriel of The Law Office of Gabriel & Gabriel—will use all the knowledge and experience gained over his lengthy career in representing you. Call (561) 622-5575 for a free consultation, or complete a contact form.