While many American cities have seen a significant increase in the number of guns stolen from often unlocked cars, Tennessee seems to be the leader in this area. In 2016 2,203 guns were reported stolen from vehicles. In 2017 4,064 thefts were reported. The causes of the increase are no mystery. One factor is the law. Tennessee passed a law that allowed people to keep guns in their vehicles without a permit or any training. As would be suspected, this helped increase the number of people keeping guns in their vehicles. A second factor is fear: people worry about violence and anecdotes of car jackings abound. Hence people are more likely to carry a gun in their vehicle. A third factor is that when more people have guns, more people want to have guns because they are worried about the other people who have guns. This motivates both the carrying and theft of guns.
Because some of the stolen guns are being used in crimes, there has been a proposal in Tennessee to make it a crime to fail to secure a gun stored in a vehicle. As would be expected, this proposal has met with strong opposition. One argument against the proposal is based on the claim that it would make criminals out of law-abiding citizens. One obvious reply is that this is true of any new law that makes something a crime. What was legal is now a crime, thus citizens who were law-abiding would be criminals if they did not obey the new law. But, as with any law, there is the question of whether it would be a good law.
It could also be argued that the gun owner is, obviously, the victim when their gun is stolen, and they should not be punished for failing to protect their property from theft. To use an analogy, surely no one would ever blame the victim of a sexual assault for being assaulted and to suggest that the victim should have been more cautious would be wrong. Likewise, for people who leave guns unsecured in cars. A such, the law should focus on punishing the thief rather than the victim.
While the analogy has considerable appeal, perhaps there is a better analogy here. In my adopted state of Florida pools must be properly fenced and pool gates must close automatically. This is because pools present a hazard and those responsible for them have an obligation to not endanger the public through their negligence. If a child wanders into my pool and drowns because I did not secure it, that death is partially my responsibility—I am not morally protected by property rights to do as I wish with my property.
The same reasoning could be applied to guns: an unsecured gun presents a potential danger to the public and the owner is obligated to take at least minimal effort to secure it. This obligation does not extend to property in general: if someone steals your iPad from your car, that is your loss and does not put others at risk. If someone steals your .45 from your unlocked car, you do suffer a loss, but the public is now at risk from an armed criminal.
One could raise the obvious counter: securing a pool is to protect children who do not know any better, while securing a car is to keep out people who know exactly what they are doing. So, while securing your vehicle is a good idea, the obligation is not on you to secure it, but on other people to not steal from your vehicle.
I must admit to being morally split here. On the one hand, I do agree that in general people are under no moral obligation to secure their property and that other people are obligated to not steal from them. Roughly put, stealing is wrong; not securing your property is just stupid. As such, the law should generally aim at punishing theft rather than failure to secure.
On the other hand, people do seem to be morally responsible for dangerous property and obligated to take reasonable steps to secure it. This seems especially important in the case of guns since they can be used to harm others. The concern here is that it is not the intruder who is at risk, rather it is other people who could be harmed by the thief using the stolen weapon—which would not have been readily available if it had been secured. As such, this could be seen as relevantly similar to the pool analogy: the concern is about the innocent people who might be harmed by the negligence of the owner. As always, the mere fact that something is morally wrong does not automatically entail is should be illegal—so the legal question remains.
One stock counter to imposing legal responsibilities on gun owners is, of course, an appeal to the Second Amendment. The idea is that such restrictions are unconstitutional since they limit the right to keep and bear arms. One stock reply is to point out all the legal restrictions that have passed muster—although these can obviously be debated as well. Another option is to point out that there are principled restrictions on other fundamental constitutional rights. To use a popular example, the 1st amendment does not allow dangerously irresponsible speech, such as falsely saying that you have a bomb while on a plane. The same should hold true for the 2nd—it is not carte blanche for irresponsible behavior and hence it would be acceptable to impose certain laws requiring such behavior as a condition of exercising the right. The question then becomes whether such a law would be unduly burdensome or unreasonable.
On the face of it, requiring people to secure their guns properly in their vehicles is neither burdensome nor unreasonable. After all, locking the doors is quick and costs nothing. While, as noted above, some have proposed making failure to secure a gun a crime, it seems more reasonable to impose a sensible and effective penalty: the violator would be required to acquire a means of properly securing the gun (such as a gun lock or gun safe). While there might be concerns about cost, these devices are cheaper than the gun they are supposed to secure and hence should be affordable. Pro-gun groups could also use some of their resources to offer discounts to poorer gun owners so they can purchase the basic means to secure their guns.
Securing one’s gun is a basic responsibility of gun ownership and those who want to exercise this right are obligated to fulfil this responsibility. As such, requiring people to properly secure their guns is reasonable and just, provided that the law does not impose any burdensome requirements or unreasonable punishments.
joseph elon lillie says
I think there is nothing wrong with requiring people to be responsible. It is sad we now live in a country where we consider irresponsibility a constitutional right. There was a day when parents taught their children that responsibility was part of being an adult.
Sounds very similar to arguments blaming women who dress provocatively for getting raped.
Can you imagine the reaction if someone proposed to fine women for failing to properly restrain their breasts?
I do agree that in general people are under no moral obligation to secure their property and that other people are obligated to not steal from them.
My moral intuition differs slightly. Certainly people have a moral obligation to not steal, but I also feel that people do have a moral obligation to secure their property to protect others from temptation and from the possible consequences of that crime.
If I leave a stack of fifties in plain view on the dashboard or passenger seat of a car that I then walk away from in a city. I know I am tempting random people to break the law and suffer punishment, and possibly involve other people in harm. The same would be true of a high-end laptop or a gun. This would not make the thief any less guilty, but is also morally bad on my part.
Moving from morality to legality, I do not feel this should be extended to a legal obligation, not least because the degree of care and degree of responsibility given the circumstances would be difficult to deal with in a court.
However, if I have a deadly weapon that can be easily used for immediate harm, like a gun or a car or a grenade or a captive black mamba, I have a responsibility to take reasonable care to prevent its theft and misuse. Cars come with safety features built in; the others don’t.
I find it entirely appropriate to require gun owners to take reasonable measures to protect others from their own action in carrying a deadly weapon to a place and condition where it is at risk of being taken and used to hurt people. The question then is: what is an acceptable definition of “reasonable measures”?
This law, as I understand it, applies only to guns left unattended in cars. That limits the scope to something the law can address. As I read the bill, simply locking the gun in the glove box or trunk is sufficient. This seems entirely reasonable to me.
Michael LaBossiere says
I would agree that it is morally commendable to not tempt the morally weak with opportunities to do misdeeds; but I don’t think we are morally obligated to do so. Securing dangerous items would be another matter.
…people do have a moral obligation to secure their property to protect others from temptation…
From The Guardian:
A senior Muslim cleric in Australia has sparked a furore by comparing women who do not wear a headscarf to “uncovered meat”, implying that they invited sexual assault.
Sheik Taj Aldin al-Hilali delivered his comments in a religious address on adultery to around 500 worshippers in Sydney last month, but they only came to the attention of the wider public when they were published in the Australian paper today.
Sheik Hilali was quoted as saying: “If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside … without cover, and the cats come to eat it … whose fault is it, the cats’ or the uncovered meat’s? The uncovered meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab [the headdress worn by some Muslim women], no problem would have occurred.”
Cats have no human moral agency, obviously. The cleric is an idiot but he has many fellow travelers in our western institutions these days as well. It’s similar to socialism in that it’s a socialization of personal moral responsibility.
No one should be responsible for another person’s moral failings. Hell, do we even hold parents accountable for the actions of their own children anymore? Angers me greatly to see signs such as “Lock your doors or lose what’s yours” and “Lock it or lose it” posted by the city police. Discussed this attitude with the police outreach person regarding an article that they endorsed stating that by leaving my garage door open while working in my backyard it was “an invitation to commit crime”. Tried to explain that the word “invitation” was inappropriate in that context. It did not go well. Used to be the rule, if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.
I will go so far as to say you have a responsibility to yourself to protect your property, but no one is 100% effective in anything. I am damn near paranoid about locking my doors when parking in a public place, yet I still had stuff stolen from my car several years ago in Pittsburgh. A paratrooper on leave was parked near me and he had his personal weapon stolen from his car the same night. I’m still not 100% convinced that the modern remote entry systems are 100% safe. The odds that someone like me and a paratrooper, the only people with remote entry cars in that parking lot, both had our stuff stolen and there were no forced entry thefts from other vehicles seems highly suspicious to me. And as to such a law, how can it be proven that a car was not locked?
Now would I personally feel bad if a weapon that belonged to me was used in a crime? Hell, yes. Do I consider the failure to make an effort to secure one’s weapons a moral failing? Hell yes. But the law is not an effective tool for enforcing morality. The law has got to know its limitations. The Founders and many generations after understood these things. Odd how such understanding was lost in the last 100-150 years or so. Though when you look at who has taken charge of our major institutions and their related idea systems, not so much.
Do I consider the failure to make an effort to secure one’s weapons a moral failing? Hell yes. But the law is not an effective tool for enforcing morality. The law has got to know its limitations.
Then you are exactly agreeing with me. I see placing unnecessary temptation to commit a crime as a moral failing, but not one that should be punished by law.
Ack. Sorry, I misread. Cancel that last comment.
The issue is whether tempting someone else to commit a crime should itself be a crime.
And let’s be clear, we are talking about adults. Pools are fenced to keep small children out, and small children should not have access to guns.
But let’s be clear: if it becomes a crime to make it too easy for someone to steal a gun, the next step will be criminalize selling a gun to a person who uses it to commit a crime. Eventually, the gun manufacturers will be forced out of business due to liability concerns.
Michael LaBossiere says
No, tempting people to commit crimes is not a crime (“Damn, I left my laptop at Starbucks and it is not locked to the table!”). However, encouraging criminal activity (“hey, look at that laptop-you should definitely steal it”) certainly could be.
Michael LaBossiere says
Selling a gun irresponsibly could be a crime; selling it properly should not. I worked in trading post that bought and sold guns responsibly-I have no moral concerns about responsible selling. Just as I have no moral concerns about people securing guns properly. My moral concerns are with irresponsible behavior that endangers others.
if it becomes a crime to make it too easy for someone to steal a gun, the next step will be criminalize selling a gun to a person who uses it to commit a crime.
Well,, yeah. And if you refuse to sell a gun to a suspicious looking minority, possibly one who is obviously Muslim, well it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t and thus gun retailers, much more vulnerable to lawsuits and such than gun manufacturers, the retailers will take themselves out of business. And that’s the ultimate goal here. No muss, no fuss, no 2nd Amendment. They’re already practicing similar tactics on the 1st Amendment.