The Trace discovered that America has a big and growing problem with gun theft and losses. According to the National Crime Information Center, a branch of the FBI, at least 249,501 firearms were reported lost or stolen in 2016, an increase of more than 62 percent over 2007. All told, at least 1.9 million guns were lost or stolen during that 10-year period.
The Trace examined records from more than 100 law enforcement agencies and found that they had collectively reported the loss or theft of at least 1,781 guns between 2008 and 2017. The vast majority were department-issued handguns, but the count also included hundreds of rifles and shotguns, as well as four fully automatic submachine guns. The firearms were stolen out of glove boxes and closets, left in airports and on the roofs of cars, and in one case, forgotten in a high school bathroom. Some were later involved in crimes ranging from aggravated assault to homicide.
The Trace’s investigation drew on thousands of pages of police reports, internal memos, inventory logs, and policy manuals from local and state law enforcement departments in 29 states and the District of Columbia, as well as from two federal agencies: Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration. While the records covered just a sliver of the nearly 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, the findings demonstrate that vague rules and haphazard security practices have resulted in guns flowing to the very criminals that officers are meant to contain.
The problem of lost and stolen guns is so significant, The Trace said, that cities and states have begun public information campaigns to educate the public:
The rise in civilian gun theft has prompted law enforcement to admonish people for leaving weapons in vehicles and other places frequently targeted by thieves. Departments have run campaigns trumpeting security measures and unwavering awareness as the hallmarks of responsible gun ownership. Last year, the Madison Police Department in Wisconsin put up a highway billboard featuring the slogan “LOCK IT or LOSE IT” sandwiched between a handgun and a set of keys. Police in Atlanta posted a video on YouTube reminding viewers that a car is a vulnerable place to stow a firearm.