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JournalistI'm the Florida reporter that investigated stolen guns and where they end up. AMA

Nov 7th 2017 by lauracmorel • 13 Questions • 5881 Points

I'm Laura Morel, a cops and courts reporter at the Tampa Bay Times. During my 10-month investigation into stolen guns in Florida, I found that at least 82,000 guns reported stolen since 2007 in Florida have never been recovered. They’re often taken from unlocked cars, including one Glock that was later used to kill a Florida cop. I also looked at gun shop heists, and how many gun stores aren’t doing their best to lock up their businesses overnight. AMA!

Proof

Q:

What is your hunch on where you think they end up?

A:

Hi there. So I found cases where these stolen guns were later found in drug houses or on drug dealers or convicted felons who can't legally buy a gun. A few guns, I found, were used to commit violent crimes, like shootings and murders, including the murder of a Florida police officer. The cops also said a lot of these guns end up being trafficked across state lines, potentially affecting other communities.


Q:

What is the most common gun you get?

A:

Most thieves end up taking smaller guns. Cops say that's because they're easy to hide. Here are some breakdowns of the kinds of guns that were stolen in Florida since 2007: Data from 2007 to the present Disguised gun 77 Electric shock gun 259 Machine gun 52 Pistol 63,815 Rifle 10,390 Rifle-shotgun combo 246 Shotgun 5,662 Shotgun pistol 41 Submachine gun or machine pistol 1,113 Others, including electrically charged darts 404


Q:

I agree “responsibility” can be subjective and not always there.

And good training should be part of every gun owners arsenal.

But what about cost of the training? Do you want to pass a law to require training that might mean lower class families who might live in bad areas, can’t afford the license to protect themselves?

Seems all the swords cut both ways ya know?

A:

True! It's a tough issue to address.


Q:

Any chance that the NRA would be on board with a law putting more responsibility on gun owners?

A:

I actually don't know because the NRA declined to talk to me for my story.


Q:

So I can safely assume that would be a no.

A:

Probably.


Q:

So I'm actually a cop in Tucson. Interestingly enough when it comes to State Law, Tucson likes to go against the grain (for example weed possession is instantly dropped down to a misdemeanor here even though it's still a felony everywhere else in AZ). Destroying confiscated guns was one of those things however state law says that they must be sold rather than destroyed. The only reason we switched is because the AZ Supreme Court is forcing us to sell them.

A:

Has anyone reported if any of those guns from police depts were later used in crimes?


Q:

Who the hell forgets to lock their cars that store a loaded firearm?

A:

Apparently, a lot of people. I think psychologically, it comes down to assuming that your vehicle is a safe space and that no one will violate your privacy. But in reality, an unlocked car is a huge crime of opportunity for thieves. All they have to do is open your door and rummage inside. There's no need to smash windows. Law enforcement around Florida have been trying for years through different public campaigns that gun owners should either lock their cars, or take their firearm with them when they get home.


Q:

What do you think about state or federally implementing a program to provide subsudies or large tax breaks for gun owners that purchase a US made gun safe? Basically making it economically appealing to obtain the hardware to safely and securely store their weapons to keep them away from thieves and children

A:

I think that's a valid idea. It'll be interesting to see if any state lawmakers take a look at this issue in the next legislative session here in Florida. Some I talked to during my reporting said the solution could be to provide incentives, like what you suggested, to promote responsible gun ownership.


Q:

I can understand the habit of leaving a gun in the car for the sake of not violating the law. I can even understand leaving it behind to avoid discomfort. What interest me is the lack of concern to lock the car or at least put the gun in the trunk. Is there something in the Floridian culture that promotes a more relaxed attitude about their guns than I have with my backpack?

A:

Awesome question. I also wondered too what role Florida's pro-gun culture played on this issue of unlocked cars. I think the fact that there are lots and lots of guns in Florida might make this kind of item more ubiquitous, to the point where some people might forget how dangerous these guns can be in the wrong hands. But as I mentioned in a previous comment, I think it also comes down to assuming that you can leave your car unlocked and people will respect your privacy. Oftentimes, these burglaries happen in "nice" suburban neighborhoods because thieves know that these residents will be more relaxed in securing their property.


Q:

Are you a gun owner? What is your personal take on the climate towards 2A guns?

A:

I'm not a gun owner, but I've been debating on whether I should get one. I think the climate toward guns becomes more and more contentious every year, especially after mass shootings. I tried to make my story as nuanced as possible, focusing on an issue that doesn't necessarily entail "gun control," but more depending on gun owners to make the right decision re securing their guns.


Q:

What way, if any, is the best way to combat this issue?

A:

So a lot of these guns are taken from unlocked cars. So in this case, the best deterrence is to lock your car, especially if you have a gun inside of it. Cops also advise homeowners to invest in a safe where they can store weapons at home. It basically comes down to responsible gun ownership.


Q:

So a lot of these guns are taken from unlocked cars.

Florida has a long list of places where carry isn't allowed. (polling places, schools, bars, government meetings, airports, pro sporting events, etc.) Have you determined how many of these thefts occur outside of venues where people can not carry?

(I'd prefer that people keep their firearms in their holsters and on their bodies rather than leaving them in their cars.)

A:

The data I have doesn't break it down by location of the theft. So the short answer is no, I don't know how many of these thefts occurred outside of venues where people can not carry. But I did talk about this in my first story. I spoke to Florida Carry, and they talked about how gun owners often have no choice but to leave their guns in their cars depending on where they are. I think in this scenario, it just comes down to making sure your car is locked, that your gun isn't visible from the outside. Maybe even invest in a portable safe you can secure under your car seat.


Q:

How do you find the guns after they've been stolen and what is your favorite gun manufacturer?

A:

Well, the cops find stolen guns this way: when a gun is reported stolen, its serial number (if the owner knows it) is entered into statewide and nationwide databases for missing property. This way, if a cop somewhere else ever comes across this gun again, either at a crime scene or someone finds it, they can search its SN and see that it was reported stolen. If the gun wasn't used in a crime, it will be sent back to the original owner. And your second question: I don't have a favorite gun manufacturer, but am looking for suggestions as I debate buying a gun!