Aggressive enforcement of the nation’s gun laws gained a heightened priority after the Oct. 1 slaughter in Las Vegas, where 58 people were murdered and another 489 were wounded by a gunman found with at least 23 firearms and ammo in his hotel room that he used as a perch to pick off innocent people below.
For that reason, state and local authorities should be credited for their arrest Tuesday of a 23-year-old Effingham County man on multiple gun charges after what officials said was a year-long investigation.
Authorities said that undercover deputies from the Effingham County Sheriff’s Criminal Investigative Division had repeatedly bought guns from Vincent Lei Thompson, 23, of Meldrim that had been reported stolen or had altered serial numbers.
Deputies set up a meeting at the Shyram Food Mart on U.S. 80 in Eden at midday Tuesday, allegedly to purchase another firearm from Thompson and to arrest him.
But the scene erupted in gunfire. Authorities said Thompson was shot and wounded during the arrest. The details surrounding the shooting are being investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, but Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie said he believes his deputies were not at fault. No deputies were injured.
Thompson faces a battery of charges. They include felony criminal use of an article with an altered identification number; theft by receiving stolen items; manufacturing products containing THC, which is the chemical compound in cannabis responsible for a euphoric high; and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Authorities said additional charged could be pending.
The slaughter in Las Vegas has prompted calls for Congress to pass more laws to regulate guns, including the sales of “bump stocks,” a device that shooter Stephen Paddock used to convert his semi-automatic weapons to automatic. Enacting such a common-sense measure is overdue to stop some of the mindless gun violence that has bloodied America. But just as important as enacting responsible gun legislation is enforcing those gun laws that are already on the books — especially the illegal sale of stolen guns.
While criminals who use guns to commit crimes are unlikely to be deterred by laws, some laws can slow them down, such as the mandatory background checks required before someone can legally purchase a gun.
But if people are free to buy stolen guns, such protections are irrelevant.
At the same time, responsible gun owners should take reasonable precautions to safeguard their own firearms.
That includes doing the basics, like storing them in secure locations away from the curious hands of children and documenting the serial numbers on their weapons, which is a big help to police in stolen weapon investigations.
“We cannot solve every case or recover every stolen item, but we will do everything in our power to do so,” Sheriff McDuffie said.
The sheriff and his deputies should be applauded for the effort they put into this case. A year’s worth of investigative work is a long time, but it’s worth the investment if it helps get illegal firearms off the street and helps deter mindless gun violence.