The following is a video transcript.
Hello, I’m Gilbert Ambler, Independent Program Attorney for U.S. LawShield of Virginia. A lost or stolen firearm can be a scary thing. Every year, countless firearms are inadvertently left behind in places like bathrooms by law-abiding people. This can happen to even the most disciplined individuals, and we even hear stories of police officers who have unfortunately forgotten a firearm in a restroom.
The law in Virginia draws a distinction between a lost or mislaid weapon and a stolen weapon. When discussing lost firearms in Virginia, more often than not, what we really mean is a mislaid firearm. A mislaid firearm is one that was intentionally placed somewhere and thereafter forgotten—such as in those situations where a handgun is left on the back of a toilet in a public restroom.
A stolen firearm, however, is one that was taken from the owner in a place where the owner knew the weapon to be and expected it to be safe. This is more likely a situation where someone might have broken into your home and actually taken the firearm while committing a burglary.
While there is no duty to report either a mislaid or stolen firearm in Virginia, there are some practical considerations to keep in mind, especially when discussing a stolen firearm. It is likely in your best interest to promptly report the theft of the authorities. Doing this may help clear your name should the firearm ever be used in a crime in the future. Making such a report also has the additional benefit of alerting the authorities so they know to be on the lookout for your stolen weapon, which may assist them in finding and returning the firearm to you.
Think Before You Report
On the other hand, reporting a mislaid firearm may simply cause you additional headaches. If you set a firearm down, forget about it, and then return in time to collect it before anyone else accesses it, self-reporting the issue will likely only cause problems for yourself. Similarly, if you return and find the firearm is not where you believe you left it, contacting the owner or manager of the establishments before contacting the authorities may be prudent as someone may have simply turned the weapon in.
However, in such a situation, if you return, cannot locate the weapon, and no one else seems to have it, your best option may be to proceed with the difficult job of self-reporting the incident. As a LawShield member you may wish to discuss making any such report to authorities with your attorney first.
Firearms and Minors
Keep in mind: in Virginia it is a class three misdemeanor to recklessly leave a loaded, unsecured firearm in such a manner as to endanger the life or limb of any child under the age of 14. That comes from Virginia Code annotated 18.2-56.2. Your attorney will be able to help you balance the benefits of reporting such an incident while limiting criminal liability for yourself.
As always, the best advice here is prevention. Circumstances vary and safe storage will be different if everyone in your home is skilled and experienced with firearms. On the other hand, a house full of small children or folks inexperienced with firearms may require a gun safe or trigger lock to truly secure your weapons.
A final question that we frequently get revolves around the potential for civil liability if a mislaid or stolen weapon is later used in a crime.
The good news is that generally speaking and with very limited exceptions, there is no civil liability when a mislaid or stolen firearm is used in a crime. The bad news is that like anything else in America, nothing stops someone from suing you and forcing you to legally defend yourself. We can easily imagine a scenario where someone has a weapon stolen, which is later used in a crime to hurt an innocent third party. In such a situation, the victim’s family may decide to sue you in hopes of recovering money.
If you have any other questions regarding what to do when your gun is lost or stolen, call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.
Vital identity theft coverage
A gun is stolen from a responsibly armed American like you every 52 seconds. Stay one step ahead of the legal nightmare you’ll face if someone commits a crime with your stolen firearm. Call or log into your member portal today to add Gunowner Identity Theft Coverage to your U.S. LawShield membership.