The federal "Firearms Donation Program" has serious problems

The federal "Firearms Donation Program" has serious problems
AP Photo/Lisa Marie Pane

Some of you may be surprised to learn that we even have a federal firearms donation program. (I know that I was.) You’re probably aware that some firearms belonging to the government sometimes wind up being used by police departments because liberals complain about that constantly, but there actually is such an official program. Older firearms deemed to be unneeded are offered to police departments that apply for such equipment. (Sadly, private citizens can’t apply for free guns from the feds.) So who is in charge of this program? I would have guessed some office in the Justice Department or perhaps even the Pentagon. But that would be incorrect. The program is administered by the General Services Administration, which just seems odd. But a recent audit concluded that the program has significant problems. The GSA has a hard time keeping track of all of the weapons and some of them simply appear to go missing, at least on paper. (Government Executive)

The federal government sometimes donates the firearms it no longer needs—ranging from pistols to grenade launchers—to local law enforcement entities, but a new report has found it is not properly monitoring the program or ensuring it keeps track of all the guns.

Despite efforts by the General Services Administration to improve its donation initiative since its inspector general first flagged serious concerns in 2015, the auditors found the agency’s management of the program remains haphazard and vulnerable to significant risks. GSA employees are not following internal guidelines for the firearm donations, making it difficult to ensure the guns go to and remain at their intended destinations.

GSA’s policies regarding the program are confusing, the IG said, and the agency lacks any single directive spelling out objectives and requirements.

It’s unclear how or why this program was set up in the first place. If the firearms in question are still usable and safe, why would the federal government give them away only to purchase new ones? And if they’re not good enough for the feds, why would they be good enough for the police? It sounds like a waste of taxpayer dollars to me, though not many of you will be shocked to see the government wasting your money.

As to the mishandling that’s been going on, it’s not a matter of the GSA failing to follow the appropriate procedures. It’s that they apparently don’t have a full set of procedures to follow. The Inspector General concluded that the GSA has been operating the program using a “patchwork of improvised guidance.” That sounds reassuring, doesn’t it?

So how bad was the mismanagement of the distribution program? It was first noticed in 2015 when literally hundreds of guns could not be accounted for. The recent IG inspection indicated that the GSA’s management of the program has improved considerably since then, but significant problems remain.

A spot check of 31 law enforcement agencies that participate in the program examined the federally donated weapons they had and compared them to the federal records maintained by the GSA. Some of the firearms had serial numbers that were incorrectly recorded. Others were not of the same make and model listed by the GSA. And once again, though thankfully the numbers were far smaller, some of the weapons were simply missing.

Other procedural steps were not be followed correctly. The GSA is required to conduct quarterly reviews of all of the donated weapons and verify that their records are accurate. But the IG found that the agency had not conducted such a review since 2018.

So what’s the answer to this mess? Should they just cancel the program and start destroying the retired weapons if they can’t keep track of them? That would be a shame since many local police departments with strained budgets clearly benefit from such donations. But if they can’t manage to correctly keep track of the firearms that are supposedly in the hands of the police, how can they be sure that some of them haven’t legitimately gone missing and wound up in the hands of criminals? As I said, this situation requires someone in management to get it under control.

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