What is the Cost of Lost & Stolen Legislation?

Rarely is the true cost of a new government program clear cut. Given the controversial nature of lost-or-stolen provisions, it is vital that law makers and law enforcement officials pay special attention to the anticipated costs of implementing, defending, and enforcing this type of ordinance. For the public officials who refuse to look closely, tax payers should take a second look at not only the upfront costs, but the back end expenses that could lead to deficits for local agencies.

Cost of Implementation

Before a lost-or-stolen ordinance can be enforced, a system for processing reports of missing firearms must be either created or integrated with current law enforcement software. Developing the needs for a fully robust system will require time by officers who otherwise cannot patrol the streets. When one adds in that consultants who specialize in either creating or customizing such software solutions often charge approximately $150/hour, the fees for simply developing a system will quickly top thousands of dollars.

Once a system is in place, one or more officers must be assigned to process the reports from any gun owner who believes they may have lost a firearm. Depending on the size of the locality, this may or may not require full-time attention. However, with the average Pennsylvania salary for even low-level police officers in advance of $40,000, the costs quickly rise as the processing system pulls officers off the street.

Assuming a locality has invested the tens of thousands of dollars to create and manage a new system to track reports of missing firearms, the city must now consider the legal costs of enforcements. Added demands on city staff attorneys who must prosecute will far outstrip the maximum fines allowed by state law.

Fiscal Burdens of Legal Challenges

It is nearly guaranteed that the first city to enforce any lost-or-stolen provision will be challenged by local gun owners. Beyond a punitive settlement to the plaintiff, there are massive costs which await the next city to be hauled in front of the courts. According to historical studies, government agencies can incur legal costs of well over $1,000 per hour for an average tort case. Considering that the case may escalate to the state’s Supreme Court, the pricetag of litigation to defend a such a questionable law will be far more than what many local budgets allow.

Finding the Resources to Fight

In recent hearings, law makers have pledged that a well-known anti-gun organization has agreed to cover all legal expenses should the cities face lawsuits for passing a lost-or-stolen provision. The organization may be playing games with their promises.

The Brady Center has so far been hesitant to put any promises for funding in writing to inquiring law makers, and a look at their recent financial history reveals why that may be the case. They are simply running out of money. The last year for which data is available – 2008 – reveals that the Center is rapidly losing money by spending far more than they raise and eating away at what nest egg they previously had. With single year loses costing the organization more than 25% of their saved assets, the organization loses its ability to offset costs over time.

By the time a lawsuit is filed and challenged, the sheer cost of maintaining a lawsuit will far outstrip what most towns can afford. Ultimately, tax payers will be forced to fund the expenses, regardless of what gun control organizations may promise right now. With unprecedented levels of scrutiny toward government budgets by angry constituents, law makers cannot afford to miscalculate the true cost of passing an illegal ordinance.

Improved Law Enforcement Investments

For towns looking for legitimate solutions to crime concerns, there are better investments in law enforcement. Studies have shown that most crime is committed by a small minority of residents. One study found that less than 4% of a state’s male population was responsible for more than 55% of all serious felonies. The focus for law enforcement programs should emphasize getting these criminals off the streets and keeping them behind bars. Working with local police to identify current shortfalls in funding or training would do far more to address all crime-related concerns for cities rather than targeting lawful firearms owners.