In conversations with our local police chief, we learned that he’s had an awful lot of trouble with burglary victims having lost property that they can’t describe accurately. That makes a certain amount of sense: after all, do you know the serial number of your computer? Your flat screen TV? Of course not.
But the stolen property he was most concerned with was firearms. While some burglars are still stupid enough to try to pawn firearms, something both the pawnshops and the police are on to, most of them have a higher level of brain-stem activity than that. But burglars by definition have plenty of criminal associates, and this ensures that any stolen firearms rapidly begin circulating in the criminal milieu. And they love stealing guns (here’s an ATF interactive on guns reported stolen in toto and by state).
Since they wouldn’t be criminals if they weren’t losers, a percentage of them get bagged doing routine dumb stuff you probably don’t do, like beating their baby-mammas, or blowing through red lights with veins full of psychoactive chemicals, and the cops recover lots of guns. But it doesn’t work like TV. Unless they know that Walther P.38 serial e5176 is your stolen gun, it’s never connected to your residential burglary. Contrary to TV shows, they also don’t ballistically test every gun that comes in, only guns that come in suspected of being used in assaults or murders, where they have a crime bullet to match. So once Joe Burglar’s woman-beatin’ or DUI case is over and the gun isn’t needed for evidence, it gets disposed of by law and SOP. (Some places auction the guns, some destroy them, basically depending on the general degree of anti-gun attitude of the pols in the area). So once your gun is gone, your chances of recovery are fairly low but nonzero, unless you don’t have a number to give to the cops.
The guy who’s photo is shown here is an example of a guy who had an inventory: Michigan gunowner John Sobotta. As John Agar of the Grand Rapids Press reported, Sobotta “always wondered — and worried” about his stolen guns (although he didn’t contact the cops until they came to him, using information from a state handgun registry). One came back quickly, and another took longer:
His German Luger turned up a year later, after a parolee shot himself in the leg.
The other, a .38 special Cobra Colt, was found by Grand Rapids Police Officer Robert Kozminski, who heard shots and arrested a suspect running with a gun in his coat.
That was Dec. 14, 2006. It was one of Kozminski’s last felony arrests.
(Kozminski was killed in 2007, fortunately, not by one of Sobotta’s firearms). Disregarding Agar’s firearms illiteracy, his article notes that, at least of his writing in 2010, the average time between theft and recovery in Michigan was fourteen years. The article was part of a series, rather typically blaming legal guns and gun owners for Michigan crime. But Michigan doesn’t punish gun burglars much — one gunstore burglar got six months.
Number, photographs, and any unique identifying features also help. Which reminds us, if you’ve been burgled, but still have photos of your guns, try blowing them up from the RAW files or negatives — you may be able to recover serial numbers. Not an optimum way to proceed, but it beats zero.
Once, we used to have all our serial numbers memorized. But these days, we have a smaller brain, a bigger gun room, or both; so we keep a computer inventory in an Excel spreadsheet. One problem with that is glaringly obvious: any burglar who grabs the guns will certainly boost the computer, too. You can just see that next conversation with the Chief. “So where’s the inventory you told me you had?” “Uh, Crim’s got it.” Major crime-fighting fail. Your inventory needs to be backed up offsite.
Many people have no inventory of their firearms, because they don’t expect to be robbed of them. (But it happens even in upscale communities — often by someone who worked as a laborer for a contractor working on that house or another in the neighborhood). If you have an inventory, the cops can rapidly — within minutes — have those stolen guns listed in the National Crime Information Computer system, which not only increases your chances of getting your gun back (unless it’s recovered by a lawless jurisdiction like Boston, which destroys rather than returns recovered guns), but also increases the chances of catching the burglars and their enablers who buy their stolen property.
ATF publishes a handy inventory sheet for the owner. Here it is, ATF Publication 3312.8, Personal Firearms Record. It’s too small for most of us, with room for only ten guns, but shows you what information to include. Then all you have to do is put a copy in a safe-deposit box, or leave a copy with a family member or trusted friend. (This is the “poor man’s safe-deposit box,” it can’t get opened by your ex’s divorce lawyer’s subpoena, doesn’t need a key, and you and your chosen inventory holder are most unlikely to be burgled same day. Unless you live in Chicago or Detroit, in which case, why haven’t you moved?)
If you want to skip ahead and think up some more physical security measures, ATF publishes a security guide for FFLs and SOTs, ATF Publication 3317.2, Safety and Security Information for Federal Firearms Licensees. The Physical Security section beginning on Page 8 has some interesting parallels to the Army way of doing things, but the bottom line is, it’s good advice, although the ATF version is more advisory, whilst the Army regulation is more directive.
Once upon a time, we knew all the serial numbers of our firearms. Now we have a smaller brain, a bigger gun room, or both; so we keep a computer inventory in an Excel spreadsheet. One problem with that is glaringly obvious: any burglar who grabs the guns will certainly boost the computer, too. You can just see that next conversation with the Chief. “So where’s the inventory you told me you had?” “Uh, Crim’s got it.” Major crime-fighting fail. Your inventory needs to be backed up offsite.
Exercise for the reader: imagine a burglary of an FFL or SOT. Now imagine getting the hardware and the bound book. D’oh! An offsite inventory is a really good idea. If you’re worried about pervasive surveillance and lax computer security (and you probably should be), then your offsite backup should be a hard copy, on paper and everything.
He pointed out that our dead-bolted gun room we’re so proud of is really nothing but a locked door. Worse, it’s a locked interior door, with no eyes-on, and quite vulnerable to a forcible attack.
We realized we didn’t have a physical security plan. Back in Army days, you had to have a physical security plan for each of your facilities. If the facility hosts firearms, ammunition, explosives, classified information, or anything else deemed sensitive, the Army required a truly elaborate physical security plan.
A good physical security plan provides many layers of security. The first layer should probably be an exterior alarm on the structure, or perhaps even perimeter video. (This assumes a perimeter fence is not practical). The next should be locks and other obstacles. Any soldier will tell you, though, that an obstacle is only an obstacle if it’s under observation and covered by fire… conditions that do not obtain if you ever leave your building unoccupied.
You cannot keep every burglar out. What you can do is deter some burglars, delay and bother others to the point where they give up. In that case, they’ll probably go burgle someone else’s home or workplace, but that’s not your concern. If you do get the rare burglar with no quit in him, or no preference for the easy mark, and he does persist, you can document his depredations so that he’s quickly caught.
As we develop a physical security plan, some options fall by the wayside. Alas, as grand as Hog Manor is, it’s not a good candidate for a moat (and the weather here is uncomfortable for alligators and piranhas, sad to say). Likewise, the neighbors, currently cordial, might take a dim view of guard towers, searchlights, and razor wire — not to mention the pay and benefits for three shifts of guards. (How come no Bond villain ever has to deal with his henchmen’s workmen’s-comp issues? But we digress).
The bottom line, then, is that we’re restricted to measures that do not radically change the exterior of the structure. Our goal is not to make an impregnable Maginot Line, for every Maginot Line has its vulnerable flank. Our goal is to apply some of the techniques of military defense (and, to be sure, physical security) to harden Hog Manor.
And you’re along for the ride.