Only a handful of states require gun owners to tell authorities if their gun is lost or stolen.
Hawaii is not among them.
The issue arose in Honolulu when an eighth-grader at Pearl City’s Highlands Intermediate brought a Glock handgun to school and it discharged, injuring another student. The 14-year-old said he found the gun on campus. It was registered to an Alewa Heights man, who told police the weapon had been missing since December.
As of 2008, seven states and the District of Colombia required gun owners to report the loss or theft of a firearm to police, according to a Legal Community Against Violence report. Legal Community Against Violence is a public interest law center dedicated to preventing gun violence. It said the 2008 report was the most recent data available.
Four other states have adopted loss provisions under specific circumstances, though reporting is not mandatory. There are no federal laws requiring gun owners to report the loss of a weapon.
States that do require reporting include: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island. The timeline for reporting a lost gun varies by state. New Jersey, for example, requires gun owners to report a lost or stolen firearm within 36 hours. Connecticut allows up to 72 hours before requiring a report. In the District of Colombia, gun owners must file a report “immediately”.
Failure to make a report can result in loss of a gun license in Massachusetts to being held civilly liable for any gun damages in New Jersey. Other state penalties vary.
Whether the Alewa Heights man could be held liable for the incident in civil court is yet to be determined.
The statute governing “firearms, ammunition and dangerous weapons” in Hawaii includes provisions on permits, disqualified applicants for guns, registration, possession and sale of guns. There are 53 subsections to the statute, none of which address lost guns.
There are many reasons to require reporting lost weapons, the Legal Community Against Violence says.
“Reporting laws make gun owners more accountable for their weapons, and protect gun owners by preventing unwarranted criminal accusations against owners who suffer thefts or losses,” the group’s report says. “The requirement also protects law-abiding gun owners by making it easier for law enforcement to locate a lost or stolen firearm and return it to its owners.”
The report goes on to say that reporting gun thefts or losses can help enable police to trace guns more effectively and help with prosecutions of users of stolen guns.
Christopher Baker, president of the Hawaii Defense Foundation, a group dedicated to the protection and defense of the Second Amendment, says reporting laws amount to little more than feel-good legislation, but would probably not infringe on constitutional gun rights.
“The best way to prevent mishaps is to provide training to children,” Baker told Civil Beat in an email. “Just as schools teach children about sex, drugs, and alcohol, they should be instructed on firearm. Regardless if a family owns a firearm or not, the kids still need to be instructed on them. Just because you don’t have guns, does not mean your child’s friends at school or families around the neighborhood do not have guns either.”
In 2002, according to the Legal Community Against Violence report, close to 1.7 million guns were stolen. Seven hundred thousand of those guns were recovered. The report cites research saying at least 500,000 guns are stolen from households annually. The report didn’t include a state-by-state breakdown.
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