Op-Ed: Guns Gone Gone

by C. D. Michel

When reporters panic about gun control, it is time for perspective. Some panicky-sounding reporters portray the loss and thefts of guns from licensed gun dealers ("FFLs" in the trade) as a huge problem, one that leads to violent crimes committed with those stolen guns. But how big is this lost or stolen gun crime problem?

Guns do get lost and guns do get stolen. Criminals confess to stealing them whenever possible, and some local gun stores – the place with the big safes and locked storage rooms – occasionally do get robbed by determined criminals, usually employing heavy machinery.

But important as it is to reduce the number of stolen and lost firearms, the rate of loss and theft is comparatively insignificant. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) – the regulatory agency overseeing firearm dealers – reports that nationally 190,342 firearms were lost or stolen in 2012. That is a lot of missing hardware. But is small when compared to either the new firearms entering the market (about 2% of the net from guns made in the USA, imported and exported) or the total number of firearms in circulation (about 0.2% of just the handguns possessed in America).

Interestingly, the government is part of the problem. Recently, a watchdog agency of the National Parks Service (NPS) noted that at least 1,400 firearms were missing from the NPS inventory. Apparently NPS firearms recordkeeping is so poor that the agency can tell firearms are missing, but they can’t tell how it happened or who has them.

FFLs that do anything remotely like this are promptly put out of business by ATF enforcement.

Washington Post reporter Peter Hermann noted “There is no indication that [NPS] police guns got into the hands of criminals.” But that being said, “the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of the Interior warned that the Park Police might not know if they had [ended up with criminals] … Investigators [identified] 1,400 guns that were supposed to have been destroyed or melted down. An additional 198 handguns donated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are sitting in a building in Anacostia but don’t show up in official records,” Hermann noted.

“[T]his report makes agency management sound like the Left’s political caricature of an irresponsible gun nut: cutting regulatory corners, buying a ton of weapons they didn’t need, and treating their weapons carelessly. Perhaps the government should get its own firearms paperwork in order, before demanding more from the rest of us,” Human Events writer John Hayward argued

Still, the gone guns are largely not crime guns. In their 2012 “Firearms Reported Lost and Stolen” report, the BATF lists the types or firearms missing in action. A full 56% of the firearms gone missing are rifles and shotguns, “long guns” that are almost never used in crime. Some people speculate that expensive hunting rifles and sport shotguns – which routinely cost thousands of dollars – are the primary theft target item, not for any criminal usefulness but for the raw resell value (thieves also prefer to steal Mercedes rather than Fords).


In the end several facts are important to keep all this in context. The first is knowing that gun violence has been dropping steadily – down about half from 1993 – despite the increased number of guns. Next is knowing that as a fraction of the total firearm availability in America, stolen guns are a relatively small occurrence. Smaller still are the number of guns stolen from or lost by licensed gun dealers.

Most importantly, when a reporter panics there is no need for you to.

Click here to read the entire op-ed.

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