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US Military Guns Keep Vanishing        06/15 06:09

   

   (AP) -- 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. And 
that's certainly an 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 and elsewhere. These weapons of war 
disappeared because of security failures that, until now, have not been 
publicly reported, including sleeping troops and a surveillance system that 
didn't record.

   In one case, authorities linked an Army pistol stolen from Fort Bragg, North 
Carolina, to four shootings in New York before it was recovered. Another stolen 
Army pistol was used in a Boston street robbery.

   Weapon theft or loss spanned the military's global footprint. In 
Afghanistan, someone cut the padlock on an Army container and stole 65 Beretta 
M9s -- the same type of gun recovered in New York. The war zone theft went 
undetected for weeks, when empty pistol boxes were discovered in the compound. 
The weapons were not recovered.

   While AP's focus was firearms, military explosives also have been lost or 
stolen, including armor-piercing grenades that ended up in an Atlanta backyard. 
In that incident and many others, military investigators closed the case 
without finding the person responsible.

   The Pentagon used to share annual updates about stolen weapons with 
Congress, but that requirement ended years ago and public accountability has 
slipped. The Army and the Air Force couldn't readily tell AP how many weapons 
were lost or stolen from 2010 through 2019.

   So the AP built its own database by reviewing records including hundreds of 
military criminal case files and data from registries of small arms, as well as 
internal military analysis. In its accounting, whenever possible AP eliminated 
cases in which firearms were lost in combat, during accidents such as aircraft 
crashes and similar incidents where a weapon's fate was known.

   From the start of this reporting 10 years ago, armed services have been 
reluctant to share information. For years, the Army suppressed the release of 
information. Unlike the other branches, the Air Force has released no data at 
all.

   Military weapons are especially vulnerable to corrupt insiders responsible 
for securing them. They know how to exploit weak points within armories or the 
military's enormous supply chains. Often from the lower ranks, they may see a 
chance to make a buck from a military that can afford it.

   "It's about the money, right?" said Brig. Gen. Duane Miller, the Army's No. 
2 law enforcement official.

   Theft or loss happens more often than the Army has publicly acknowledged. 
During an initial interview, Miller significantly understated the extent to 
which weapons disappear, citing records that report only a few hundred missing 
rifles and handguns. An internal Army analysis that AP obtained tallied 1,303 
firearms.

   In a second interview, Miller said he hadn't been aware of the memos, which 
had been distributed throughout the Army, until AP pointed them out. Army 
officials later said the total is imperfect because it includes some recovered 
guns and may include some duplicates.

   Like Miller, top officials within the Marines and Secretary of Defense's 
office said weapon accountability is a high priority -- and when the military 
knows a weapon is missing, it does trigger a concerted response to recover it. 
The officials also said missing weapons are not a widespread problem.

   "We have a very large inventory of several million of these weapons," 
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in an interview. "We take this very 
seriously and we think we do a very good job. That doesn't mean that there 
aren't losses. It doesn't mean that there aren't mistakes made."

   Weapons accountability is part of military routine. Armorers are supposed to 
check weapons when they open each day. Sight counts, a visual total of weapons 
on hand, are drilled into troops whether they are in the field, on patrol, or 
in the arms room. But as long as there have been armories, people have been 
stealing from them.

   In the absence of a regular reporting requirement, the Pentagon is 
responsible for informing Congress of any "significant" incidents of missing 
weapons. That hasn't happened since at least 2017.

   Stolen military guns have been sold to street gang members, recovered on 
felons and used in violent crimes.

   The AP identified eight instances in which five different stolen military 
firearms were used in a civilian shooting or other violent crime, and others in 
which felons were caught possessing weapons. Federal restrictions on sharing 
firearms information publicly mean the case total is certainly an undercount.

   The military requires itself to inform civilian law enforcement when a gun 
is unaccounted for, and the services help in subsequent investigations. The 
Pentagon does not track crime guns, and spokesman Kirby said his office was 
unaware of any stolen firearms used in civilian crimes.

   The closest AP could find to an independent tally was done by the FBI's 
Criminal Justice Information Services. It said 22 guns issued by the U.S. 
military were used in a felony during the 2010s. That total could include 
surplus weapons the military sells to the public or loans to civilian law 
enforcement.

   Those FBI records also appear to be an undercount. They say that no 
military-issue gun was used in a felony in 2018, but the AP found that at least 
one was.

   Back in June 2018, police in Albany, New York, were searching for a young 
man they'd placed at an April shooting that involved the Beretta M9 stolen from 
the Army. By the time authorities found him two months later, bullet casing 
analysis would link the gun to two other shootings, plus a fourth in 2017.

   The Army still doesn't know who stole the gun, or when.

 
 
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