No One Has Been Fined Under Savannah’s Gun Storage Ordinance

No one has been fined or charged under the city of Savannah’s gun storage ordinance, despite the ordinance being implemented about three months ago, according to open records requests obtained from the Savannah Police Department (SPD).

The ordinance, passed unanimously by the Savannah City Council on April 15, requires firearms left in motor vehicles to be “securely stored” in compartments or a locked trunk, while requiring lost or stolen firearms to be reported to SPD.

SPD recorded 52 cases of firearms stolen from unlocked or locked vehicles between April 15 and July 6 of this year, Savannah Police Department open records specialist Niya Broveak confirmed in an email. Yet no citations were issued under the order, Broveak said.

When asked Tuesday morning at his weekly news conference whether the city had charged or fined anyone under the ordinance, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said he did not know and referred this reporter to the police department.

“I expect they will be charged,” Johnson said.

“The Savannah Police Department is actively enforcing the city’s ordinance,” SPD spokesman Neil Penttila said. “Officers will review each incident on a case-by-case basis to determine if a citation is warranted.”

The SMN requested reports from the SPD relating to each incident.

More: Where Do Guns Used in Savannah Crimes Come From? Data Provides Answers, Raises Questions

More: Mayor to introduce ordinance targeting gun owners who leave weapons unsecured in unlocked cars

More: Georgia Attorney General Sends Letter to City of Savannah Challenging Gun Storage Ordinance

Why did the mayor initially introduce this ordinance?

The mayor initially introduced the ordinance in response to crime statistics that showed the majority of guns stolen from vehicles come from unlocked cars.

In 2023, SPD reported 244 firearms stolen from cars; 203, or 83%, were stolen from unlocked vehicles.

Violations of the new ordinance would constitute violations of city code and potential penalties include a fine not exceeding $1,000 or a maximum of 30 days in jail.

The lack of fines under the ordinance calls into question the city’s intent to prosecute residents and tourists who fail to secure firearms, which could later be used in violent crimes here or elsewhere.

The order faced a number of questions and challenges during its implementation.

A day before the ordinance was to be voted on by the City Council, Savannah city attorneys revised the proposed ordinance, according to a previous report from the Savannah Morning News.

Based on comments from council members, city attorneys removed two paragraphs that would have required Savannah Police Department (SPD) officers to record “identifying marks” on stolen firearms, such as “caliber, make, model, manufacturer’s name and serial number.”

The draft ordinance also removed the clause that would have required SPD to keep records of stolen firearms to help other law enforcement agencies locate them. While the draft ordinance specifies that anyone traveling with a firearm must ensure the glove compartment is locked, the revised draft removed the word “locked” and replaced the word “parked” in reference to vehicles with the word “unoccupied.”

Shortly after the ordinance was unanimously adopted on May 1, a Wayne County resident filed a civil lawsuit in Chatham County Superior Court against the city of Savannah, challenging the ordinance. In the complaint, plaintiff Clarence Belt argued that the ordinance was “void” and “unenforceable,” citing state law. In his response, City Attorney Bates Lovett asked the court to dismiss Belt’s complaint with prejudice. A motion hearing in the case is scheduled for Aug. 6, according to a review of court records.

Two days later, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr sent a letter to Lovett. The letter stated that if the city of Savannah asked the attorney general’s office to conduct a legal review of the ordinance, the attorney general’s office would have determined that the ordinance would directly conflict with state law, citing OCGA 16-11-173(b)(1), as previously reported.

Despite the letter, Savannah city officials insisted at the time that the ordinance would continue to be enforced.

Drew Favakeh is the public safety and justice reporter for the Savannah Morning News. He can be reached at [email protected].