How many military guns have been stolen?

AP Photo/Don Thompson

The Associated Press has a disturbing report out this week dealing with weaponry belonging to the United States military. The fact that our military has a lot of weapons shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone for obvious reasons. But what’s really shocking is the number of firearms that have been stolen, only to show up later at crime scenes. The AP begins the piece with the story of a standoff between an armed suspect with a hostage and police officers in Albany, New York. The suspect eventually dropped his handgun and surrendered, but the subsequent investigation tied the weapon to four previous shootings.

Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that it was an Army handgun, and military records indicated that it was supposedly stored in an armory at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The Army didn’t even know the weapon was missing. And it turns out that thousands of others had been lost or stolen as well.

In the first public accounting of its kind in decades, an Associated Press investigation has found that at least 1,900 U.S. military firearms were lost or stolen during the 2010s, with some resurfacing in violent crimes. Because some armed services have suppressed the release of basic information, AP’s total is a certain undercount.

Government records covering the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force show pistols, machine guns, shotguns and automatic assault rifles have vanished from armories, supply warehouses, Navy warships, firing ranges and other places where they were used, stored or transported. These weapons of war disappeared because of unlocked doors, sleeping troops, a surveillance system that didn’t record, break-ins and other security lapses that, until now, have not been publicly reported.

While AP’s focus was firearms, military explosives also were lost or stolen, including armor-piercing grenades that ended up in an Atlanta backyard.

It was discovered that at least 1,900 firearms of various types were either lost or stolen from military facilities in the 2010s. The AP claims that the Army has been very reticent about cooperating with their investigation so the number could be considerably higher.

It’s not just happening in the United States. The Army reports that someone cut open an arms locker in Afghanistan and stole 65 Beretta M9s. Other instances of similar thefts and losses were reported around the globe.

Sadly, it’s believed that the majority of the thefts were perpetrated by members of the military who were looking to make some extra money by selling them. When the people who are responsible for keeping the inventory are the ones stealing and selling the goods, crimes become much harder to detect and prosecute. Sometimes the loss isn’t discovered until the weapon turns up at a crime scene and is traced.

Not all of the weapons that turn up on the streets are lost or stolen, however. (At least not from the military.) The Army regularly sells off weapons that are being retired or replaced to civilian law enforcement agencies or to the public through auctions. Once the firearms are beyond the reach of the military, they can still wind up going missing and landing in the hands of gang members.

The most commonly stolen type of firearms are long rifles. The AP found nearly 1,200 instances of those types of weapons going missing. The next most popular firearms to steal are handguns, with almost 700 disappearing during the 2010s. They also managed to lose 74 machine guns, 36 grenade launchers, 34 rocket launchers, and 25 mortars. Seriously? Who is buying mortars and where would you fire one without drawing massive amounts of attention?

The Joint Chiefs are currently working with Congress to establish better oversight of weapons inventories and losses. Perhaps with a bit more focus, this will turn out to be one problem the government can actually solve.