Gun thefts often treated as misdemeanors in California

Californians may be surprised to learn it's petty theft to steal a gun if it's worth less than $950 and that only if its value exceeds that amount, can the offense be charged as grand theft, with much stiffer consequences.

"It should be a felony, if you steal a gun, it should be a felony," store owner Gabriel Vaughn told KTVU at the counter of Sportsmans Arms, the Petaluma shop he has owned for 10 years.

Watching the smash and grab burglaries in Sacramento Wednesday, Vaughn sympathizes with the victims.

"You know how well you get insured through insurance," he observed. "This is what you do, day in and day out, this is your home."

As a seller, Vaughn doesn't want any gun in the wrong hands, and finds it ridiculous that California considers a gun like any theft item: the penalty depends on value.

"Here I have a Glock 19, " he demonstrated," and here a Sig Sauer, " placing two handguns side by side.

"The first goes for $500, $600, and the other costs $1,000 and up," he explained, "but steal one, it's a misdemeanor, the other a felony."

Lawmakers have tried for two years to change the inequity.

"This was an unintended consequence and we need this loophole closed, " North Coast Sen. Mike McGuire (D- Healdsburg) told KTVU.

He points to Proposition 47, aimed at easing jail overcrowding by reducing penalties on stolen property, among other crimes. Before it passed two years ago, stealing a firearm, regardless of value, was punished as a felony, with a sentence of  16 months to three years.

As a misdemeanor, 12 months in jail is the stiffest penalty.

A bill that would have restored stiffer punishment was vetoed by Governor Brown, because he wants voters to decide, as part of a sweeping gun reform package on the November ballot.

"If you go and steal a firearm there is no background check, authorities don't know who you are and if you're a danger to society, so we need to insure that its an automatic felony," declared McGuire.

Heists like the ones in Sacramento are obvious felonies, and thieves with criminal convictions are prosecuted to the full extent as well.

Vaughn's own store has not been burglarized, although someone tried to cut through the wall a few years ago, and he slept in the store for weeks afterward.

"If you steal a gun what real purpose do you have for it, you're either going to commit a crime yourself or you're going to sell it to someone who is going to commit a crime. Either way it's crime," he concluded.