Every year, hundreds of thousands of guns are lost or stolen in America, with one gun stolen from an individual owner every two minutes. Stolen guns can be diverted to the illegal gun market, where they are used to fuel crime across the country. Lost and stolen reporting laws help reduce gun trafficking by requiring individuals to report loss or theft to law enforcement shortly after discovering it.

Background

Laws that require firearm owners to notify law enforcement about the loss or theft of a firearm serve several public safety functions. These laws help deter gun trafficking and straw purchasing, and help law enforcement recover and return lost or stolen guns to their rightful owners. They can also help law enforcement disarm individuals who become ineligible to possess firearms.

Gun theft is a growing problem across America. Unfortunately, a substantial number of these thefts are never reported to law enforcement agencies.

  • From 2006 to 2016, the number of guns reported stolen from individuals increased by approximately 60%.1 Similarly, many cities have reported alarming spikes in the number of firearms stolen from cars.2
  • Nationally–representative survey data indicates that approximately 380,000 guns are stolen from individual gun owners each year.3
  • However, less than 240,000 gun thefts are reported to police each year4—suggesting that nearly 40% of the guns lost or stolen in the United States are never reported to law enforcement.5

Stolen guns that enter the illegal market are an appealing source of firearms for people who are legally prohibited from having guns.6 Accordingly, recent data shows a link between stolen guns and crime.

  • An analysis of more than 23,000 stolen firearms recovered by police between 2010 and 2016 found that the majority of these weapons were recovered in connection with crimes, including more than 1,500 violent acts such as murder, kidnapping, and armed robbery.7
  • One study found that nearly a third of firearms recovered at Pittsburgh, PA crime scenes were said to have been stolen.8

Lost and stolen reporting requirements can help prevent straw purchases and illegal gun trafficking—measures which in turn help keep firearms out of the hands of prohibited persons.

  • Lost and stolen reporting laws can help prevent straw purchases—purchases in which someone who can legally purchase a firearm buys it for someone who can’t legally buy it him or herself. Without reporting laws, straw purchasers can simply claim that a gun they bought and gave to a prohibited person was lost or taken in an unreported theft.
  • Reporting laws also help ensure that prohibited persons—such as people who have a serious criminal conviction or are subject to a domestic violence restraining order—cannot falsely claim that guns have been lost or stolen when law enforcement moves to remove firearms from their possession.
  • Lost and stolen reporting laws also help prevent gun trafficking across state lines. One study found that crime guns originating in states with a lost-or-stolen reporting law were 30% less likely to end up in another state than guns that came from states without such laws.9

In addition to reducing illegal gun crime, reporting laws may make gun owners more accountable for their weapons. These laws can help protect rightful gun owners from unwarranted criminal accusations when a gun that was lost or stolen from them is later recovered at a crime scene.

Summary of Federal Law

Federal law does not require individual gun owners to report the loss or theft of a firearm to law enforcement. Federal law does, however, require licensed firearms dealers to report the loss or theft of any firearm from the dealer’s inventory to the US Attorney General or local law enforcement within 48 hours of discovering the loss or theft.10 For more information about dealer regulations and firearms missing from dealers’ inventories, see our summary on Dealer Regulations.

Summary of State Law

Nine states and the District of Columbia require firearm owners to report the loss or theft of any firearms to law enforcement. A tenth state, Maryland, requires individuals to report the loss or theft of handguns and assault weapons but not other firearms, while an eleventh state, Michigan, requires owners to notify law enforcement about firearm thefts but not lost firearms.

New Jersey has also adopted a relevant law imposing civil liability for acts perpetrated with stolen firearms, as described below.

States with Mandatory Loss/Theft Reporting Laws

California11
Connecticut12
Delaware13
District of Columbia14
Hawaii15
Illinois16
Maryland (loss or theft of handguns and assault weapons only)17
Massachusetts18
Michigan (firearm thefts only)19
New Jersey20
New York21
Ohio22
Rhode Island23

Liability for Stolen Firearms

New Jersey24
Washington (effective July 1, 2019)25

States that Require Loss/Theft Reporting

Immediate Reporting

In Massachusetts, firearm owners are required to report the loss or theft of any firearm “forthwith” to the State Police and the local licensing authority. Penalties for a violation of the Massachusetts law include suspension or permanent revocation of the owner’s firearm identification card or license to carry firearms. Ohio law also penalizes anyone who knowingly fails to report “forthwith” the loss or theft of any firearm “in the person’s possession or under the person’s control.” Similarly, DC’s law applies to any registered firearm and applies “immediately” upon discovery of the loss or theft. The owner must report the circumstances of the loss or theft, if known, in writing. Registration certificates are revoked if the owner fails to report a lost or stolen firearm a second time, and the person becomes prohibited from possessing a firearm for five years.

24 Hour Reporting

In Hawaii, New York, and Rhode Island, owners must report the loss or theft of any firearm to local law enforcement within 24 hours of discovery. In New York, the report must include “the facts and circumstances of the loss or theft,” including whether ammunition was stolen as well. Local law enforcement in New York then reports the information to the State Police.

36 Hour Reporting

New Jersey requires gun owners to report the loss or theft of any firearm to local law enforcement where the loss or theft occurred (or to the Superintendent of State Police if the locality has no police force) within 36 hours of discovery.

72 Hour Reporting

Connecticut requires firearm owners to report to local law enforcement within 72 hours of when they discovered or should have discovered the loss or theft. Local law enforcement then reports the information to the State Police. Similarly, Illinois requires a firearm owner to report to law enforcement within 72 hours of obtaining knowledge of the loss or theft of a firearm, and law enforcement must enter this information into a state-wide database. Maryland’s law, which applies to handguns and assault weapons, requires reporting to local law enforcement within 72 hours of discovering the loss or theft; local law enforcement must then enter this information into state and federal databases.

5 Day Reporting

Michigan’s law applies only to thefts of firearms, which must be reported within five days of discovery to a “police agency having jurisdiction over that theft.”26 California’s law requires owners to notify local law enforcement within five days of the time they knew or reasonably should have known their firearms were lost or stolen. The local law enforcement agency is then required to electronically transmit a description of any lost or stolen firearms to the California Department of Justice.27

7 Day Reporting

Delaware’s law requires firearm owners to report the loss or theft of the firearm within seven days of discovery of the loss or theft to either local or state law enforcement.

Liability for Stolen Firearms

In New Jersey, if a registered assault weapon is used in the commission of a crime, the registered owner of that weapon is civilly liable for any damages resulting from that crime. This liability does not apply if the assault weapon was stolen and the registered owner reported the theft to law enforcement within 24 hours of his or her knowledge of the theft.

In Washington, a person is guilty of community endangerment due to unsafe storage of a firearm if a prohibited person gains access to a firearm they own and carries it in an intimidating manner, discharges, or causes injury with it. This liability does not apply if the weapon was reported stolen and the owner reported the theft to law enforcement within five days of his or her knowledge of the theft.28

Key Legislative Elements

The features listed below are intended to provide a framework from which policy options may be considered. A jurisdiction considering new legislation should consult with counsel.

  • Firearm owners are required to report the loss or theft of any firearm as soon as possible after discovery (Massachusetts, Ohio, District of Columbia – immediately; New York, Rhode Island – within 24 hours).
  • The duty to report is triggered at the time the firearm owner knew or should have known that the firearm was lost or stolen (California, Connecticut).
  • Owners of firearms lost or stolen (and not recovered) within a designated time period prior to the adoption of the law must report to law enforcement within a reasonable period.29
  • Reporting requirements should apply to all firearm types (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, District of Columbia).
  • Firearm owners are subject to civil liability for failure to report a lost or stolen firearm that is later used in crime (New Jersey — assault weapons only).
  • Reporting of lost or stolen firearms is a condition of any license or registration required by the jurisdiction, and license/registration is subject to revocation for failure to report (District of Columbia, Massachusetts).
Notes
  1. Brian Freskos, “Missing Pieces: Gun Theft from Legal Gun Owners is on the Rise, Quietly Fueling Violent Crime, The Trace, November 20, 2017, https://bit.ly/2izST1h. ⤴︎
  2. Martin Kaste, “More Guns In Cars Mean More Guns Stolen From Cars,” NPR, May 9, 2019, https://n.pr/2MdG66e. ⤴︎
  3. David Hemenway, Deborah Azrael, and Matthew Miller, “Whose Guns are Stolen? The Epidemiology of Gun Theft Victims,” Injury Epidemiology 4, no. 1 (2017). ⤴︎
  4. Brian Freskos, “Missing Pieces: Gun Theft from Legal Gun Owners is on the Rise, Quietly Fueling Violent Crime, The Trace, November 20, 2017, https://bit.ly/2izST1h. ⤴︎
  5. David Hemenway, Deborah Azrael, and Matthew Miller, “Whose Guns are Stolen? The Epidemiology of Gun Theft Victims,” Injury Epidemiology 4, no. 1 (2017); Brian Freskos, “Missing Pieces: Gun Theft from Legal Gun Owners is on the Rise, Quietly Fueling Violent Crime, The Trace, November 20, 2017, https://bit.ly/2izST1h. ⤴︎
  6. Philip J. Cook and Harold A. Pollack, “Reducing Access to Guns by Violent Offenders,” RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences 3, no. 5 (2017): 2–36. ⤴︎
  7. Brian Freskos, “Missing Pieces: Gun Theft from Legal Gun Owners is on the Rise, Quietly Fueling Violent Crime, The Trace, November 20, 2017, https://bit.ly/2izST1h. ⤴︎
  8. Anthony Fabio, et al., “Gaps Continue in Firearm Surveillance: Evidence from a Large US city Bureau of Police,” Social Medicine 10, no. 1 (2016): 13–21. ⤴︎
  9. Daniel W. Webster, Jon S. Vernick, Emma E. McGinty, and Ted Alcorn, “Preventing the Diversion of Guns to Criminals Through Effective Firearm Sales Laws,” in Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), 109–121. ⤴︎
  10. 18 U.S.C. § 923(g)(6). ⤴︎
  11. Cal. Pen. Code § 25250, et seq. California’s reporting requirement was enacted through voters’ passage of Proposition 63 in November 2016. ⤴︎
  12. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53-202g. ⤴︎
  13. Del. Code tit. 11, § 1461. ⤴︎
  14. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2502.08(a), (e). ⤴︎
  15. Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-29. ⤴︎
  16. 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/24-4.1 ⤴︎
  17. Md. Code Ann., Pub. Safety § 5-146. 2013 Md. S.B. 281 (effective October 1, 2013). ⤴︎
  18. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 129C. ⤴︎
  19. Mich. Comp. Laws § 28.430. ⤴︎
  20. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-19. ⤴︎
  21. N.Y. Penal Law § 400.10. ⤴︎
  22. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2923.20(A)(5). ⤴︎
  23. R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-47-48.1. ⤴︎
  24. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-12(g). ⤴︎
  25. Washington Initiative 1639. ⤴︎
  26. Mich. Comp. Laws § 28.430(1). ⤴︎
  27. See Cal. Pen. Code § 25260. ⤴︎
  28. This liability also does not apply if the firearm was safely stored. ⤴︎
  29. Los Angeles’s ordinance required owners of firearms lost or stolen within five years prior to the adoption of the ordinance to report the loss or theft within 60 days of the law’s adoption. Los Angeles, Cal., Municipal Code ch. V, art. 5, § 55.12 (effective December 3, 2006). ⤴︎