Bill proposes tougher penalties for gun store thefts

GREENVILLE COUNTY, SC (WSPA) – Tougher penalties could be on the way for criminals who steal from gun stores. U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina introduced a bill that would increase prison sentences for those crimes.

Graham cites examples from across the state, including Simpsonville.

It’s business as usual at The Gun Shop and Indoor Range, but looking closely you can still see the signs of what happened on October 13, 2016.

“Still marks on the floor from where the van stopped,” said former SLED agent Rick Charles who now works at the business.  “Within 59 seconds they were in and out.”

Surveillance footage captured three people driving a stolen van into the store, before smashing glass display cases, and making off with 43 firearms.

“I was shocked obviously that they’d done this,” said Charles. “The last thing I wanted to hear was that a police officer or anybody was shot with one of the guns that were stolen from out store.”

It’s one of the cases mentioned by Senator Graham, who introduced the Federal Firearms Licensee Protection Act.

“I am proud to introduce this bipartisan effort to make ‘smash and grabs’ more costly for the criminal. I believe in responsible gun ownership – not criminals stealing firearms,” said Graham in a statement.

The legislation:

·         Increases the statutory maximum penalty for knowingly stealing any firearm in an FFL’s business inventory from 10 to 20 years.

·         Imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of 3 years for burglary from an FFL and 5 years for robbery from an FFL.

·         Criminalizes the attempted theft of a firearm from a licensed importer, manufacturer, dealer, or collector.

“I’m all for that,” said Charles. “I don’t know if it will be a deterrent. However, on the other hand, if there’s mandatory sentencing it means these folks are in jail and not committing crimes on the outside.”

It’s something Wayne Batson said he could also support, though they have not had any break-ins at Sharp Shooters Gun Store and Range.

“A stiffer penalty I think is good for these guys,” said owner Wayne Batson. “Anything we can do to lock up people who stole firearms, yeah we want them in jail as long as we can get them there.”

Senator Graham’s office said smash and grabs targeting these FFL dealers are rising, citing recent incidents in Gilbert, Fort Mill, Horry County, and Simpsonville.

Charles said it’s what happens after the break-in that’s most concerning.

“These firearms being on the street and not knowing where they were going to be used or how they were going to be used, he said.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) reports a 48% increase in the number of FFL burglaries and a 175% increase in the number of FFL robberies over the past five years.  Last year, 7,858 firearms were taken in FFL burglaries and robberies.