Gun owners in Savannah, Georgia who leave their firearms in their vehicles could soon face fines or even the possibility of jail time if Mayor Van Johnson gets his way, though the mayor’s plan appears to run afoul of state law.
Johnson’s proposed ordinance, ostensibly aimed at reducing the number of firearms that have been stolen from cars in the city, hasn’t been unveiled to the public, but the mayor has sketched out the rough parameters of his idea in interviews with local media.
“It is my intention to introduce an ordinance for the City of Savannah, we’re not going to wait for the state, we’re going to do what’s right for Savannah,” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said.
According to the mayor, that ordinance would require guns to be securely stored and not visible when unattended in cars.
It would also require gunowners to report a theft or loss of a firearm within 24 hours.
“We believe individual gun owners should not leave their guns in cars. If you’re out, and you’re all over the place and you can’t bring your gun into any place, then the gun is not helping you being in the car.”
Mayor Johnson says the goal is to make it harder for criminals to get guns illegally.
As of Aug. 19, city data shows 189 guns have been stolen in Savannah so far this year.
156 of those guns were from unlocked cars.
“You’re sitting here, you have a deadly weapon, and you have a sign on me saying ‘steal me,’ because that’s basically what you’re doing.”
I can’t help but wonder why on earth so many people are leaving their cars or trucks unlocked in the first place, regardless of whether or not there’s a firearm inside.
Still, fighting one dumb decision with another isn’t exactly the best strategy, and at least one local firearms instructor is dubious that the proposed ordinance would actually make a difference.
Lead instructor at Thunderbolt Firearms Training agrees that all guns left in cars should be securely stored in a lock box but is skeptical how effective the new ordinance could be.
“If you don’t lock your car up, it’s irresponsible behavior. I don’t know how you can correct that by fining somebody after the fact. It’s still not going to stop the people that are irresponsible,” Dick Berman said.
Still the mayor remains confident the new penalties will curb gun violence.
“The opportunity decreases. The thefts decrease, the illegal firearms decrease, the shootings also, we believe, will decrease as well.”
Penalizing gun owners for leaving their firearms unattended is one approach, but ultimately all that does is criminalize the victims of crime when the focus should be on stopping the thieves from absconding with stuff that doesn’t belong to them. And despite Johnson’s bluster, his proposed ordinance is likely to run headlong into the state’s firearm preemption law, which mandates that the state legislature is the only law-making body in the state that can impose restrictions on the “possession, ownership, transport, carrying, transfer, sale, purchase, licensing, or registration of firearms or other weapons or components of firearms or other weapons”.
The mayor may be looking to directly challenge the preemption law, though he hasn’t said so publicly, but it could also be that he doesn’t yet realize that his big idea is in direct conflict with state statute. Either way, if he does move forward with his proposed ordinance he’s opening the city up to a lawsuit challenging the mandate, and one the city’s not likely to win.
A better approach would be an educational campaign that publicizes the number of guns that have been stolen from unlocked cars and reminds gun owners to lock their doors and secure their firearms. The city could even offer free gun locks to all those who want them, while making it clear that prosecutors will take a zero-tolerance approach to anyone stealing a firearm, whether from a vehicle, private residence, or a gun store. Leaving a firearm in plain view in an unattended and unlocked car is a bad idea, but law enforcement’s focus should be on stopping the thieves, not going after gun owners who’ve made a stupid mistake. Johnson’s proposed ordinance may be meant to improve public safety, but at its heart its more about victim-blaming than anything else.