OPINION: How gun owners accidentally spur crime

Surveillance footage from a Cherokee County home shows a man stealing a handgun from a pickup truck overnight. Deputies said four firearms were stolen after thieves broke into at least 18 vehicles in three subdivisions.

Credit: Cherokee County Sheriff's Office

Credit: Cherokee County Sheriff's Office

Surveillance footage from a Cherokee County home shows a man stealing a handgun from a pickup truck overnight. Deputies said four firearms were stolen after thieves broke into at least 18 vehicles in three subdivisions.

It’s almost assuredly a fact that more Georgians are packing these days. With that comes a problem: Lots of those guns go missing and end up in the hands of folks up to no good.

Each year, more and more guns get stolen from cars. Since 2021, it’s been about 2,000 guns a year in the city of Atlanta. Twice what it was in 2019.

Generally, those firearms don’t end up in the possession of Rotary Club members.

The guns are often repurposed from being a tool used for defense to one used for offense — or at least to commit offenses. Stolen guns are like gold in the miscreant market.

Last week, the city council in Savannah voted to make it illegal to leave your gun in your unlocked car. If it’s stolen when unlocked, you’ve broken city code. Such an offense carries up to a $1,000 fine and 30 days in jail.

After the vote, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson told reporters, “We are not trying to take anybody’s guns — that is a constitutional right granted by the Second Amendment. But we do think with the right comes a responsibility to maintain and secure this right. I am still going to carry my gun. But I am also going to lock my gun up.”

Last year, he said 244 guns were stolen from cars in Savannah. Of those, 203 were unlocked.

Similarly, Gwinnett County police last year said about two-thirds of the guns stolen from cars (266 in the first eight months of 2023) were from unlocked vehicles.

It’s amazing someone leaving a firearm in a car would not think to lock up. But people get lax. If it hasn’t been stolen in the last couple of years, then why will it be stolen tonight?

Savannah’s is said to be the first such law in the state.

Atlanta City Councilman Michael Bond said a couple of years ago the city considered a law requiring people to have lockboxes if they left guns in their cars. “But we were told that it would be a violation of state law,” he said.

It seems the High Court believes well-regulated militias shouldn’t have to lock up their weaponry.

Instead, the Atlanta council voted to create a program to hand out free lockboxes to residents. That was put on hold, Bond said, because the manufacturer had a product recall.

I spoke with Lt. Daniel Genson, who heads the larceny from autos unit at APD.

“The numbers are going up every year,” he said, adding that this year’s pace is ahead of 2023′s, when 1,868 were stolen. The previous two years averaged more than 2,000.

In 2019 there were 988 guns stolen from cars. In 2015, there were 850. And an increase in stolen guns is happening despite an overall drop in reported car break-ins.


“There are certainly more people packing,” Genson said. “People feel less secure and are carrying firearms.”

In Atlanta, most gun thefts from cars, he said, or even thefts from cars overall, are from locked vehicles, where broken glass decorates the asphalt. “People are more cautious here,” he said.

But not cautious enough.

Multiple cars were broken into Saturday morning at the Mariposa Lofts apartment complex, police said.

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

icon to expand image

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

”You shouldn’t leave a gun in your car,” said Genson. “Or you should leave it in a safe.”

About 61% of guns stolen from cars in Atlanta occur in parking lots or parking garages. “Fish in a barrel,” he said. “You can knock out 30 cars in 10 minutes.”

“The majority are downtown,” Genson said. “They’re going to the Aquarium or places they can’t bring them in. Or if they have a motor cross event. You see an F-250 (pickup truck) with an NRA sticker and there’s going to be a gun in it.”

It’s like begging the thieves: “Bust out my window!”

In fact, the number of home burglaries has dropped precipitously over the past decade because criminals have an easier time with cars and generally get in less trouble when caught.

Research from the group Everytown for Gun Safety found that a “decade ago, less than a quarter of gun thefts were from cars; in 2020, over half were.”

The group’s national study found that most guns were stolen from vehicles parked outside homes. If you belong to Nextdoor or any other neighborhood-based social media, shadowy videos of young hooded men rifling through cars at night are common.

Predictably, Jerry Henry, the head of Georgia Carry, dislikes Savannah’s law.

August 25, 2018 Stone Mountain - Republican candidate for Georgia governor Brian Kemp (left) and Jerry Henry, Executive Director of Georgia Carry, share a laugh as Jerry Henry presents a folding knife during Georgia Carry's 19th Annual Convention at Atlanta Evergreen Marriott Conference Resort in Stone Mountain on Saturday, August 25, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM


icon to expand image


“You mean the illegal ordinance?” he asked when I brought it up. “Why is it my fault when someone steals something from me?”

He noted the Georgia General Assembly is the only body that can pass gun control laws.

“When someone gets charged (in Savannah), I’m sure someone will file a lawsuit,” Henry said. “The liberals have been trying to shift the blame from the victim to the perpetrator.”

He did add, “I don’t believe in leaving the gun in the car. But I have to do it when I go down to the (state) Capitol.”

A few years ago, legislators passed the so-called “Guns Everywhere” law which allowed guns to be carried pretty much everywhere. That is, everywhere but where they were. The Capitol has metal detectors.

But I figure the Savannah ordinance will have the law of unintended consequences. It mandates you report a stolen gun within 24 hours. However, I figure less people will call 911 after getting their gun stolen from an unlocked car.

No one likes to rat themselves out to the cops.