What happens if you walk outside to your car, only to discover the windows smashed and your handgun missing? It’s an unfortunate scenario and one of the most common ways we see firearms stolen.

Minor crimes are soaring during the COVID-19 pandemic and as states refuse to arrest low-level criminals, gun owners are left wondering what to do when their gun goes missing. We want you to be prepared. And today, we are going to answer the question, “What do you do if your gun is stolen, here in Virginia?”

What to do #1: Keep Records

The first thing you should do happens before a loss or theft ever occurs. The best first step to reducing the fallout a stolen gun can cause is documenting your firearms. In Virginia, there is no complete gun registry, so the government won’t keep track of your guns for you. This is a good thing and it’s why you need to keep accurate records. You should document each firearm’s make, model, and serial number. We also recommend keeping a copy of the record of purchase, such as a sales receipt or bill of sale.

Additionally, if you want to go the extra mile, a photograph of each firearm can be very helpful. You should store an electronic backup of these documents and photos. If your gun is recovered by law enforcement, these documents will make retrieving it from police as easy as possible.

What to Do #2: Contact Your attorney

If the situation is rapidly unfolding, or an emergency, you should call 911. However, as in our current example, if you discover the theft sometime after the fact, and the scene is safe, the next crucial step for protecting yourself after a gun is stolen should be discussing the incident with an attorney. Was the way you stored the firearm a crime? Did you possess the gun in a prohibited location? Were you negligent? Was the firearm a prohibited weapon, or illegal for any reason? You should discuss these issues with an attorney before speaking to the police. We have seen people repeatedly and inadvertently incriminate themselves when trying to do the right thing and report a gun stolen.

Only a licensed attorney can give you legal advice on your particular circumstances and answer those key questions. But, what happens if your stolen gun turns up at a crime scene or in police custody? We talk to folks all the time who have had the ATF show up at their house with more than a few questions about a gun they once owned but later turned up at a suspicious location. This leads us to the last step…

What to Do #3: Disclose to the police

If your firearm is stolen, you should report the theft to the police. In Virginia, in the past, you have not been legally required to report a stolen firearm. However, if you don’t report it, and the gun is ever used in a crime, the police will likely have some serious questions. For all they know, the gun never left your possession. Reporting the gun stolen breaks what is commonly referred to as “the chain of custody.”

It clearly delineates when you had the gun and when it left your possession. So, reporting makes sense. However, the law in Virginia looks to be changing. In the future, Virginia will require mandatory reporting of a lost or stolen firearm within 48 hours of discovery of the missing weapon. When exactly the discovery occurs is a separate question, and will raise separate legal issues.

Imagine returning from vacation and settling into your workday routine, only to realize three days later that your truck had been broken into while you were gone, and a weapon had been stolen. If the theft occurred while you were on vacation, and you had already been home for three days, is it possible law enforcement will argue that you should have discovered and reported the theft sooner?

The value of an attorney

This is a situation that an attorney can assist you with. We hope you never find yourself in this situation, but we want you to be prepared. To review, document your firearms. If your gun is stolen, it’s important to discuss the incident with an attorney. And finally, disclose the theft to the police. These foundational steps only take a few minutes but can save you hours, days, and even weeks of headache down the line.

U.S. LawShield has created a unique add-on that provides extra coverage for this very reason. With Gunowner Identity Theft Coverage an Independent Program Attorney will provide crucial assistance, so you won’t have to deal with the fallout of a stolen gun or identity (affecting your right to carry) on your own. Crooks want to use your gun—not theirs. Don’t wait until it’s too late: add Gunowner Identity Theft Coverage now.

If you have any questions about firearm documentation, call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak with your Independent Program Attorney.