readers want to know: what liability attaches to a gun owner whose firearm
is stolen and later used in the commission of a crime?
The answer to that
question, in Indiana, is simple: apparently no liability attaches at all.
The issue was
raised--theoretically at least--by the theft last week of three handguns,
one of them loaded, from an unlocked vehicle in the 400 east block of C.R.
900N in Jackson Township, as reported in the Thursday, March 30, edition of
The issue was
raised, not theoretically at all, in December 2014, when--according to
authorities--a handgun stolen from an unlocked vehicle in the 600 block of
North Calumet Road in Chesterton was used by Thomas Reichler to shoot
Portage resident Alex Tapia to death during a vehicle entry gone wrong.
Reichler was subsequently convicted of murder and sentenced to 62 years in
responding to Thursday’s story, objected to the use of the term “victim” in
reference to the Jackson Township gun owner.
called on the Tribune to engage in some “investigative reporting.”
Except that there
isn’t much to investigate. Porter County Prosecuting Attorney Brian Gensel
told the Tribune on Monday that he’s “not aware of any criminal
liability that can attach” to a gun owner whose firearm is stolen, then used
in a crime.
By way of contrast,
Gensel noted, “some civil liability” could attach, say, to a bartender who
serves an intoxicated patron later involved in a drunk-driving accident. But
even civil liability is unlikely to attach to a “careless gun owner” whose
firearm is stolen, he added, “because there is an intervening crime.”
“I share your
frustration,” Gensel said.
Ten states and the
District of Columbia do require gun owners to report to law
enforcement--within a specified period of time, usually 24 or 36 or 72
hours--the theft of their firearms, the Law Center to Reduce Gun Violence
reports on its website. But Indiana is not one of those states.
Those laws, in any
case, do not hold gun owners liable for crimes committed with their stolen
New Jersey does
hold the registered owner of an assault weapon civilly liable for any
damages resulting from the use of that weapon in a crime. But, the Law
Center notes, “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.”