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Pawnshop law will make it tougher for thieves to fence stolen merchandise

Erie County legislators have approved a reasonable and necessary law to protect residents from the permanent loss of stolen items that wind up in county pawnshops. It’s a serious problem that has tracked the county’s spiraling drug abuse crisis.

The bipartisan measure, which now goes to County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, would require pawnbrokers, those selling secondhand jewelry and gold, and coin dealers to hang onto any items they purchase for at least two weeks before reselling or melting down the merchandise.

The goal is to allow police to track down stolen items before they become impossible or far more difficult to recover. Not infrequently, drug abusers steal jewelry and other items, including from their own families, to support their addictions.

To further aid police in recovering such stolen goods, the measure also requires all pawnbrokers and secondhand dealers to be licensed, to verify the identity of everyone from whom they buy items and to keep documentation for five years on items received from each seller.

This is an eminently reasonable requirement, and far less intrusive than a previous measure that would have required extensive online documentation of every item received. That documentation would have been available for search by law enforcement. The City of Buffalo already has implemented regulations governing the operations of pawnshops.

While the business people affected mainly seem willing to accept this law – unlike the previous effort undertaken in March – some still resist, protesting, for example, that the law doesn’t cover other businesses that could also trade, inadvertently or not, in stolen goods. It’s not an unfair observation, though jewelry is much easier for a store to sell or melt down, making pawnshops and similar operations the greater risk.

Poloncarz has about three weeks to decide whether to sign or veto the law. Unless some question arises that calls into doubt the usefulness or fairness of this law, he should approve it. There is an obvious need as the county grapples with a crisis of heroin addiction.

That crisis is fed by the abuse of prescription opioid painkillers that are as addictive as heroin, but harder and more expensive to get. So those hooked turn to heroin, which is readily available, though often spiked with fatal doses of fentanyl.

That addiction phenomenon shows no sign of stopping or even slowing. So, in addition to dealing with the need to save the lives of overdose victims, which police routinely do, they must also deal with the social side effects of addiction, including thievery and the sorrowful effort to turn family heirlooms into some quick cash for the next fix. This measure will help.