UNLOCKED AND LOADED

Recently, Duval County has fallen victim to a rash of car burglaries. Possibly more disconcerting is the fact that firearms have been a common denominator in more than a few of these cases.

When it comes to the transportation of firearms, Florida has relatively lenient guidelines when compared to those of states like California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, where the process of just purchasing a firearm requires more than a simple background check and three-day waiting period. Florida statutes allow public and private citizens to legally transport a handgun in a vehicle without a concealed weapons license (CWL) under the following conditions:

790.25(3)(l) A person traveling by private conveyance when the weapon is securely encased or in a public conveyance when the weapon is securely encased and not in the person’s manual possession;

(m) A person while carrying a pistol unloaded and in a secure wrapper, concealed or otherwise, from the place of purchase to his or her home or place of business or to a place of repair or back to his or her home or place of business;

Basically, though you can carry in a vehicle without a CFL, the firearm must be unloaded, unclipped and secured in a lockable case, i.e., a gun safe, trunk, glove box, etc.

What Florida law doesn’t specifically prescribe is locking your car’s doors (although some would say this is implied).

As of this year, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO), there have been 2,610 reported auto burglaries, in which 152 guns have been stolen. Mind you, it is only July. According to JSO, most of the gun-related auto burglaries that happened over the July Fourth weekend involved vehicles that showed no signs of forced entry and about 75 percent of all auto burglaries in Duval County involve vehicles that were unlocked at the time of unlawful entry.

Jacksonville Undersheriff Pat Ivey says that JSO does everything it can, from covert sting operations to pawnshop surveillance, in an effort to track down these stolen handguns. JSO also sends out periodical PSAs imploring gun owners to properly secure their weapons in their cars and in doing so, lock the car’s doors.

According to Ivey, despite the efforts made to educate the public of such crimes, JSO continues to see a wave of unforced-entry car burglaries. In regard to any legal recourse sought by the State Attorney’s Office against the gun owners for improper storage or transportation of the handguns in question, there isn’t much to be said.

“They are going to stick to their stories,” Ivey says, referring to the gun owners who have been burglarized. “They say, ‘My vehicle was locked. I know I locked my car last night. I heard the horn beep or the alarm chirp and I went in my house.’ But, inevitably, the next day they call and report the vehicle burglarized with no signs of forced entry, no key fobs out of place and nobody with key fobs but themselves.”

In Ivey’s 20-plus years as a police officer, he says he has repeatedly seen stolen weapons from auto burglaries being used in violent crimes at some point down the road, be it five months or five years.

“It’s a reality that the public needs to know,” Ivey says. “I think they care, but it just doesn’t get to the point where they are compliant more often than not.”

Unfortunately, this is just one reality of the growing issue of lackadaisical firearms storage. The criminally minded aren’t the only persons of interest getting their hands on unsecured weaponry.

The activist group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which was launched on Facebook the day after the Sandy Hook Elementary

School shooting in 2012, is taking a stand for “common-sense” gun reforms. Its most recent initiative, known as the Be SMART program, aims to raise awareness about the growing number of children each year who are either wounded or killed in unintentional shootings that often spur from improper gun storage.

Florida has already had 10 incidents this year in which kids younger than 17 have found a weapon and unintentionally injured either themselves or someone close to them. Three of these incidents involved the improper storage of a handgun in a vehicle, and one of them resulted in the death of 2-year-old Kaleb Ahle in Tarpon Springs. After investigation, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office ruled that Kevin Ahle, the boy’s father, had properly secured his firearm in the glove box according to Florida statutes and did not charge either of the parents.

“The very first point of Be SMART is gun storage,” says Moms Demand Action’s Florida chapter leader, Chryl Anderson. “Not only is that important for the safety of our children, but it’s important in terms of controlling gun trafficking. Guns are stolen out of cars and then they make it into the wrong hands, which is something we are trying to avoid.”

Anderson, a grandmother of six, said she first felt compelled to take a stand for gun law reforms here in Florida after the death of Jordan Davis, back in 2012, who was a member of her extended family.

“I consider gun violence to be any situation where a child is able to get their hands on a gun and shoot themself,” Anderson says. “Negligence is gun violence and that is what we need to stop.”

The last line of defense between a criminal and a deadly weapon is the law-abiding gun owner. And that, according to Undersheriff Ivey, should be abundantly clear.

“Every time there is a [gun-related] violent crime broadcast by the media, that in itself should send a message that it’s that much more important that you need to be a responsible gun owner,” says Ivey. “I don’t want to say that people are being lazy, but it probably boils down to as simple as that.”

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