Thousands of guns are stolen from unlocked cars as violent crime in Charlotte rises
Experts point to an easy solution for keeping guns safe
Charlotte, N.C (WBTV) - On an ordinary autumn morning Mary McMasters was getting ready to leave Sunday church service in Raleigh when she got a call from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department that her daughter had been shot and killed in East Charlotte.
“I immediately fell to the ground, and everyone in the church circled around me,” said McMasters.
McMasters had last spoken with her daughter, Ahylea Willard when she was driving to Charlotte to have dinner with a friend on Saturday evening.
It was a typical mother-daughter phone exchange.
“I told her to be safe,” said McMasters.
Sunday morning her body was found behind an apartment complex on Snow Lane.
It took about a month for charges to be brought for Ahylea’s murder against Tyquawon Parker. The 27-year-old has a previous criminal history, including a warrant for his arrest for stealing a gun in High Point two months before Ahylea was murdered.
“That warrant really bothers me,” said McMasters.
“People are getting their hands on guns too easily.”
A National Trend
Hundreds of thousands of guns are stolen every year in the United States.
A more frustrating statistic is that a large majority of guns stolen in the U.S. are stolen from unlocked vehicles. It’s a trend seen in cities across the nation, particularly in the South, from Jacksonville, Fla to Houston, Texas to Nashville, Tenn to Atlanta, Ga.
FBI crime data analyzed by Everytown Research and Policy suggests that guns stolen from vehicles are now the single largest subset of stolen guns in the U.S.
While hundreds of guns are reported stolen from gun shops every year in North Carolina, the number of thefts pales in comparison to the thousands of guns reported stolen from vehicles.
In 2022 more than 1,000 guns were reported stolen from vehicles to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. CMPD is on track to see the same numbers in 2023 with 319 guns stolen from vehicles already this year.
At least one gun is stolen from a car in Charlotte every 8 hours.
CMPD did not respond to a public records request from WBTV seeking police reports for all reported incidents of guns being stolen from cars.
But reports from other counties around the region–Union, Cabarrus, Cleveland, and Forsyth County—from last year show that most of the time guns weren’t stolen through forced entry.
“Over 90 percent of reported vehicle break-ins that we investigate were from unlocked vehicles,” said Tony Underwood, Chief Deputy of Operations at the Union County Sheriff’s Office.
Last summer a gun was stolen from an unlocked vehicle in someone’s driveway in Indian Trail. Shortly after the gun was stolen it was later used in a shooting in the South End neighborhood of Charlotte, Underwood said.
“I think multiple victims suffered gunshot wounds, and there were also shots fired into businesses where there was property damage,” said Underwood.
Underwood emphasized that the shooting tied to the gun stolen from Indian Trail could have been stopped had the owner stored the gun properly and locked the car.
“You don’t want to be that person who said, ‘I could’ve prevented this possibly if I had just secured my vehicle and secured my firearm.’”
Are State Laws Doing Enough?
Only a handful of states, including California and Connecticut, require gun owners to securely store their guns in unattended vehicles. North Carolina is a traditional open carry state and doesn’t specify how a gun should be stored in unoccupied vehicles, except in certain circumstances, such as when the vehicle is parked on school property or when minors live in the home of the gun owner.
Lindsay Nichols, Public Policy Director at the Gifford Law Center, says most states don’t recognize the need for guns that are left in cars to be locked to prevent theft.
“This gap in the law means that potentially hundreds of thousands of firearms end up being stolen from parking lots and driveways and put on the streets,” said Nichols.
“It is far past time for legislators in every state to address the dangerous practice of leaving guns in cars without proper security mechanisms.”
In North Carolina, State Representatives John Autry (D-Mecklenburg) and Carolyn Logan (D-Mecklenburg) were among a group of lawmakers to introduce a bill that would prohibit firearms from being left in a vehicle unless the vehicle is locked, and the gun is secured in a locked container.
In the state Senate, a group of Democratic lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 498, which would exempt firearm safety and storage items from sales tax.
Neither bill has received consideration from Republican lawmakers, who hold supermajorities in both chambers.
As each of those bills aimed at decreasing gun thefts languished in the legislature, Republican lawmakers repealed the state’s pistol purchase requirement, making it easier to buy a handgun in North Carolina.
The legislature’s inaction on gun storage safety persists despite calls from law enforcement for gun owners to lock their vehicles and secure their weapons.
Family members of those lost to gun violence, like Mary McMasters, continue to grieve.
“At first I was angry, I didn’t want to be angry,” said McMasters.
“I asked God to take that anger away. But the anger hurts to my soul and I still carry it.”
Tips for Maintaining Personal Firearm Ownership Records:
1) Keep multiple photocopies of your sales receipt, including the Make / Model / Caliber / Serial Number, and take a photo of your firearm.
2) If your firearm is missing or stolen, it is important to report it immediately to the local Police Department or Sheriff’s Office. Having the serial number will help in having your firearm recovered and in prosecuting a theft.
3) If you do not have the pertinent information for a particular firearm, contact the dealer that sold it to you. They will be able to help you recover that information in a timely manner.
CMPD recommends not leaving your gun in your car. If you do leave your gun in your car – use a gun lock. You can ask your neighborhood CMPD division office for one and how to use it. It’s free.
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