Photo | Jason Johnson

The Mobile Police Department held a news conference to showcase stolen guns Feb. 2. Of 1,158 guns stolen from vehicles in 2017, only 245 have been recovered.

If one Mobile city councilor had his way, leaving your gun unsecured would result in punishment.

Councilman C.J. Small said he’d be in favor of state legislation that would make gun owners more responsible if an unsecured gun was stolen and later used in a crime. During the waning minutes of the council meeting on Tuesday, March 20, Small referenced a problem caused by residents leaving guns and other unsecured weapons in unlocked cars. He elaborated on his proposal during a phone interview later that week.

Small said he brought the idea back from a meeting of the National League of Cities in Washington, D.C. where he learned California has a state law requiring gun owners to secure their guns.

“A state law would be required,” Small said of the idea.

He said he’s reached out to state representatives and it could be legislation they try to tackle during the next session.

Particularly troubling to Small is the number of youth who are able to get their hands on unsecured guns. He referenced the accidental shooting death of a toddler in Mobile earlier this month.

As for gun thefts from unlocked vehicles, Small said it’s a “citywide issue.”

There are numbers to back him up. According to the Mobile Police Department, there were 1,158 guns stolen from vehicles in 2017. Of those, only 245 have been recovered.

MPD Chief Lawrence Battiste agrees with Small that unsecured guns in vehicles is a problem in the city. The department has been communicating with the public on it for about a year, he said.

One way — the best way — to prevent such a crime from occurring is to keep vehicles locked or guns in a more secure location, Battiste said.

“These are crimes of opportunity,” he said. “Perpetrators are looking for a quick hit where they can get in and not risk setting off an alarm by breaking a window.”

The Mobile County Sheriff’s Office has seen an uptick in thefts from vehicles too, although it’s a bigger problem in the city, spokeswoman Lori Myles said.

The county saw 337 total cases related to firearms taken from cars last year. In 286 cases no force was needed, meaning vehicles were most likely unlocked. Of the 337 cases, only seven guns have been recovered.

Like Battiste, Myles said it’s important to lock your doors and remove everything from a vehicle.

“If you’re leaving something in it, make sure it can’t be seen,” she said. “If there’s a gun in your vehicle, remove the gun from your vehicle. If it’s in your car, you can’t defend yourself.”

In addition to guns being stolen from vehicles, Small said there’s very little fear of punishment among those who openly carry guns in the street.

“People are too comfortable walking down the street (with guns),” he said. “The elderly are suffering and they’re scared to call the police department. They’re afraid for their lives.”

The police need to be more strict, Small said, on juveniles and others who carry guns on the street. He suggested bringing back the practice of random police roadblocks to help regulate some of those activities.

While MPD has previously done roadblocks, the department rarely carries them out any longer, Battiste said. Now, MPD only uses them for specific purposes. Battiste said they’ve become ineffective, as police are required to notify residents of roadblocks before they are executed.

As for a law pertaining to gunowners who leave unsecured guns in vehicles, Battiste said the MPD would follow the law, but believes there is a personal responsibility that comes with owning a gun.