Responsible Gun Ownership

Sep 8, 2014
Editor's Note: Occasionally, we loan our feature position to individuals and organizations we feel have something to contribute to our readers. Today, former a former police officer gives his perspective on a a frequently overlook aspect of responsible firearms ownership.

Some 30-plus years ago, my Dad gave me my first gun as a Christmas present. I can still remember it: I was eight years old and the gun, which I still own and enjoy shooting, was a lever-action Marlin 39A chambered in .22LR. I had been to the range and on hunting trips with my Dad since I was four years old but this was my first gun, a gun that I could actually call my own; a gun that I could show to my friends, my dad's friends or anybody who would listen while I showed them the finer points of the rifle.

The one thing that I did not immediately understand, however, was the tremendous responsibility that comes with gun ownership. But I was lucky because my Dad was (shall we say) "very persuasive" when it came to teaching the rules of responsible gun ownership. I learned from an early age that these rules were not to be broken, nor bent and (most importantly) never forgotten.

"Responsible gun ownership" can mean different things to many different people, but it probably should not. Not only do we as gun owners have a duty to ensure that firearms are handled safely at all times, we also have a duty to ensure that firearms do not end up in the wrong hands. "Without a doubt," said Patrick McDonald, vice-president of sales and marketing at Winchester Safes, "burglary protection should be the main feature one looks at when buying a safe."

Most people reading this are already familiar with the basic rules of gun safety:

1. Treat all firearms as if they are loaded.

2. Never point a firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire.

4. Keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction at all times.

5. Be sure of your target and your backstop.

6. Never store a firearm loaded.

These rules were also part of Dad's rules, but his No.1 rule was that the gun (actually, all the guns save his personal protection firearm, which was secured in an alternate fashion) was to stay locked in the gun cabinet and were not to be taken out without his knowledge and direct supervision.

My Dad enrolled me in a hunter safety course after becoming a gun owner and for the next several nights he sat in the class with me as I listened and learned a number of important things. But none seemed as important as Dad's No. 1 rule.

I began my career in law enforcement 15 years later and it did not take long to realize that far too many people do not follow Dad's No. 1 rule. I cannot begin to recount the numerous burglary reports I've taken or read where guns were stolen. The most difficult part for me to accept was how the stolen guns had been "stored" by the victims. The answers varied: the closet, over in the corner, under the bed, in the dresser drawer, etc. The one place that never seemed to have guns or other valuables taken from it was a safe. Now, I am not saying that it hasn't happened because I know of at least one person who had guns taken from a safe, but that safe was not locked so they might have well been in the closet or under the bed.

It is difficult to say how many guns are stolen every year in the United States, largely because many thefts go unreported to police. A recent ATF report said 190,000 firearms had been reported lost or stolen in 2012. Another report from the Bureau of Justice states that from 2005 to 2010 an average of 232,400 firearms were stolen each year. The Bureau of Justice report also indicated the majority of those firearms were taken in burglaries.

It is difficult to determine how many stolen guns are used in crimes. But if I learned anything in my law enforcement career it was that it is a rare occasion when a criminal will go to the store to buy a gun. Criminals know where to get stolen guns on the street.

A Department of Justice survey of more than 1,000 convicted criminals found that nearly 90 percent of respondents got their guns through unlawful means that included theft, straw purchases, family, friends and the black market.

Once a firearm is stolen it is unlikely to be recovered. There can be many reasons for this. Maybe the gun was tossed into a lake or a ditch. Maybe the gun unknowingly ended up into the hands of a law-abiding citizen who has never been contacted by police. Maybe the serial number on the gun had been obliterated.

During my law enforcement career I learned that one of the biggest factors that limits the recovery of stolen guns is that people do not keep an accurate record of their firearms. Not only should we lock up our guns we should keep an accurate record of the serial numbers, the exact makes and models and any other distinguishing characteristics on the firearm. All of these can be utilized by the police and entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). All of that information will aid in the recovery of the firearm if it is ever encountered by law enforcement.

There are also independent web sites that allow an individual to check a serial number to see if the gun has ever been reported to that web site as stolen.

The experts at Winchester Safes provided some very important information as well. McDonald said that every 13 seconds a home intrusion is committed somewhere in the United States. McDonald added a home burglary is 100 times more likely to occur than a house fire, and non-professional burglars, who are typically considered more desperate and dangerous, commit 85 percent of home burglaries.

McDonald added that home security statistics show that the burglary tools utilized during break-ins are usually simple: screwdrivers, pliers, pry bars and small hammers. Typically burglars are looking for small, expensive items that can be easily converted into cash such as jewelry, guns, cameras and small electronics.

"There is no doubt that the likelihood of future tragedies can and will be significantly lessened by simply securing firearms where unauthorized people cannot get access to them" said McDonald. "By securing your firearm in a safe you can instantly eliminate at least two of the avenues a criminal obtains guns. Keeping an accurate record of your firearms can dramatically increase the chances that your firearm will be recovered, in the unlikely event that your gun safe is breeched."

--Jeff Puckett
Jeff Puckett's distinguished law-enforcement career included 13 years in the Norman (Okla.) Police Department's special investigative division where he participated in more than 200 tactical entries, executed complex criminal investigations and operated in an undercover capacity. Upon his retirement from the force in 2013, Puckett joined Blue Heron Communications where he applies the knowledge he gained as an officer, lifelong outdoorsman and avid firearms collector to represent industry-leading outdoor brands.