WMBF Investigates: More than 160 guns stolen throughout Myrtle Beach over past year

More than 160 guns stolen in Horry County

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – More than 160 guns were reported stolen throughout Myrtle Beach from July 2017 to August 2018.

A WMBF Investigation sorted through numerous Myrtle Beach Police Department reports to find gun thefts occur across the city from Ocean Boulevard to residential communities.

More than half of the cases involving a stolen gun were ones in which the weapons were reportedly taken from vehicles.  Approximately 45 of the 167 missing firearms were stolen from homes and 27 were taken from hotels.

When a gun is missing, police collect the make, model and serial number of the weapon. This information is used to enter the gun into the national database NCIC. If the information is not known, there is no way for the gun to be traced.

Multiple police reports from the MBPD state the victim did not know the serial number. In some instances, officers wrote the victim would follow up with the information once they tracked it down.

MBPD officials said police explain the process for entering items into the database and encourages victims to follow up once they have information. However, in numerous reports, this information is never inputted on the police report.

"The officer is responsible to complete the necessary forms and have the weapon entered, but the officer can only complete this responsibility if the victim provides the information," said Lt. Bryan Murphy who calls the process a shared responsibility.

Robert Battista, owner of 707 Gun Store and Shooting Range, said when he sells guns he reminds buyers to keep their paperwork in a safe place so it can be accessible if the weapon is stolen. He said he's not surprised if tourists don't have the information on hand.

"Those papers are usually at home. You don't travel with the title to your vehicle," Battista said, "How many people know the license plate of their car? So, when their car gets stolen they don't just off hand know the license plate of their vehicle either."

Not all the thefts involved tourists. Around 26 percent of the gun thefts throughout the city were reported at homes.

South Carolina is rated as one of the highest states for gun thefts from 2012 to 2015, based on research by the progressive policy and advocacy organization the Center for American Progress.

"Unfortunately, people forget, or they get complacent and nobody thinks you're the person that's going to get robbed and unfortunately that's how a lot of illegal firearms get on the street is theft." Battista said.

A study by the University of Pittsburgh in 2016 found 80 percent of criminals did not possess the gun they used in their crime. The research examined nearly 900 firearms from crime scenes in 2008.

South Carolina does not require people to notify police if their weapon is stolen. State Rep. Robert Williams proposed a bill to change this last year.

Williams first proposed the law after hearing from a South Carolina woman whose child was killed by a stolen gun. The bill, called Lizzy's Law, would require people to report stolen weapons by imposing penalties for failing to alert authorities.

"We aren't talking about a piece of candy here, you know, you're talking about a weapon. You're talking about a weapon so anyone who loses a weapon should want to report that," Williams said.

Data on the number of unreported gun thefts is hard to track but Williams said it is happening all the time.

Battista said he doesn't think the law is trying to legislate common sense.

"It's not going to stop gun crime," Battista said. "Even with the serial number there's nothing to stop the criminal from, you know, trying to remove the serial number from the firearm."

Only 11 other states have a similar law.

Williams said the bill has nothing to do with the Second Amendment and instead aims to safeguard law-abiding citizens.

"Some kid getting killed by your weapon and you failed to report that it's your gun, that would drive any law-abiding citizen up the wall," Williams said.

Lizzy's Law is currently stalled in a judiciary committee, but Williams said he plans to resubmit it.

"If we can't pass this bill then we allow criminals to get access to someone's weapon and then go and use them on the street," Williams said.

Copyright 2018 WMBF News. All rights reserved.