Chesterton Tribune



Gun owners not liable for crimes committed with their stolen weapons

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Chesterton Tribune 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 Tribune.

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 prison.

One reader, responding to Thursday’s story, objected to the use of the term “victim” in reference to the Jackson Township gun owner.

Another reader 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 firearms.

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.”



Posted 4/4/2017




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