What’s the Law: Owner’s liability for a crime committed with a stolen gun

WHAT’S THE LAW?

BY DARRYL CHOY

TOPIC: Owner’s liability for a crime committed with a stolen gun

Question: Recently, and over the past few years, there was much publicity about criminals using stolen handguns to commit homicides. If my registered gun is stolen and used in a fatal crime, can I be criminally or civilly responsible?

Answer: The August 20, 2010, double murder/suicide involved a stolen 9mm Beretta. The killer reportedly stole the gun from a relative. In 2006, a mentally ill killer stole a .45 Govt. Model from his caregiver that was hidden under the house; three people were murdered at the Round Top Lookout. In both cases, the gun owners are exposed to serious civil liability if it can be shown the owners were negligent or in violation of the law by improperly storing the handgun(s).

The families of the victims could bring a civil suit for wrongful death. Civil liability will hinge on whether the gun owners acted in a responsible and reasonable manner. Were the guns stored in compliance with the law? Gun locks used?

Were the guns in locked safes to which the killers had no access? Did the owners lend the gun to the killers? The owners could also be charged with criminal negligent homicide or involuntary manslaughter.

For most criminals, buying a “hot gun” in Chinatown is more myth than reality. The greatest source of firearms used in crime is from friends, family, via theft, or by burglary.

Best solution? Store all of your firearms in a strong, locked safe. Bolt it in a closet out of plain sight.

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