Fort Smith police launch ‘Gun-Smart Campaign’

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 2,432 views 

The Fort Smith Police Department on Monday (March 20) launched a new campaign to promote responsible gun ownership. The Gun-Smart Campaign aims to educate gun owners on the importance of properly securing firearms.

The campaign comes in response to a recent surge in gun thefts from unlocked vehicles. Over the last four months, 32 guns were taken from unlocked vehicles in Fort Smith, raising concerns about the potential dangers of leaving firearms unsecured.

“If you look at the last four months of the year alone, eight guns stolen a month, that’s nearly 100 per year that are ending up in the hands of criminals in Fort Smith. Now, most of the ones stolen that I’m referencing have since been recovered,” said Aric Mitchell, FSPD public information officer. “But one is too many, especially when you consider what can happen when a firearm is in the wrong hands, and the fact that none of these thefts were smash-and-grabs. They were simply cases where thieves went looking for the easiest targets (unlocked vehicles) and found them.”

FSPD issued a community alert Feb. 14 noting that it had made a few key arrests in the preceding weeks in which guns were purchased that had been acquired by juveniles during a rash of vehicle breaking-and-entering crimes in our city.

“Unfortunately, we cannot rest easy, and it is going to take an effort from all of us to prevent these escalating behaviors from producing a tragic result, either for one of these young people or someone they encounter,” the alert said.

The alert said FSPD was asking parents and caregivers to help by asserting the control they have over juveniles and cooperating with the authorities. It also appealed to residents in the city, saying it needs citizens to be aware that offenders of any age will typically target unlocked vehicles to acquire firearms and other personal property.

“Please refrain from leaving any such items in your vehicles, especially firearms. At the very least, keep these items out of sight, and lock your vehicles,” the alert said.

Monday’s campaign launch is taking things a little further. A press release issued by the department said the need for responsible gun ownership can be further highlighted by the death of University of Arkansas at Fort Smith student Kaleb Glynn Watson in 2016. Watson was killed by a teenager who had stolen a gun out of an unlocked vehicle.

“Our goal is not to be anti-gun or anti-gun ownership,” said Fort Smith Police Chief Danny Baker. “We believe that gun ownership is a right, but with that right comes the responsibility of ensuring that firearms are stored securely when not in use. The Gun-Smart Campaign is all about encouraging gun owners to take responsibility for their firearms and ensure that they do not fall into the wrong hands.”

The key message of the Gun-Smart Campaign is simple – lock up guns when not in use. It also focuses on not leaving firearms in vehicles, especially if they are visible. By properly securing firearms, gun owners can prevent them from being stolen and potentially used for criminal activities, the news release said.

Over the next several months, FSPD officers will be on radio and television promoting the Gun-Smart Campaign. There also may be information packets available where guns are sold, as well as additional messaging through social media, traditional media, and other forms of available advertising.

“Gun ownership is our right, but it’s also our duty as gun owners to be responsible. Not doing so can lead to potentially devastating consequences for our community,” Mitchell said.