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Total number of lost or stolen firearms increases in 2016, federal report finds

ATF in the line of fire

For the past five years, burglaries of firearms in the U.S. have skyrocketed, according to a new report issued on Tuesday by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

Between January and December of 2016, ATF measured a total of 18,394 reported lost or stolen firearms from federal firearms licensees (FFL’s), which is the name given to businesses certified by the federal government to sell, build or distribute firearms. 

The bureau held a closed door, pen-and-pad session with reporters on Tuesday to unveil its new report.

According to the data from the report, the total number of lost or stolen firearms has increased by 3,594 since 2015. 

Since 2012, burglaries were on the upswing by roughly 48 percent and robberies were up by 178 percent (burglary constitutes breaking into a structure and robbery indicates taking by force or threat). 

Kevin O’Keefe, Chief of the Operational Intelligence Division at ATF, said the report collected its data from the firearms businesses, which are obliged to disclose all cases of larceny, burglary, robbery as well as lost inventory. 

But O’Keefe also said that only a small amount of the total number of firearms businesses in the U.S. are measured in the report, therefore the reported data is “fluid.” 

Still, the report gives law enforcement and the public a useful snapshot of the problem of missing firearms, which officials believe have mostly been obtained by gang members for crime and the black market for profit. 

Christopher Schaefer, Assistant Director of Office of Public and Government Affairs for ATF, said he wouldn’t call the problem of lost or stolen firearms an epidemic, but said the numbers do indicate a growing problem. 

Out of the 18,394 lost or stolen firearms reported in 2016, the ATF identified almost half of them as lost. About the other half were labeled as stolen.

The majority of losses of firearms come from major manufacturers -- when their products are transported from factory to store, said Andrew Graham, Deputy Assistant Director of Industry Operations at ATF. 

Georgia ranked first for gun business theft or loss reports with 150 reports of 1,539 lost or stolen firearms. Florida ranked second with 216 reports of 1,260 lost or stolen firearms, and Texas ranked third with 248 reports of 1,247. 

In early February of 2017, the ATF revealed a new initiative, which alerts gun businesses when firearms are reported lost are stolen in their given county, so that businesses can further secure their inventories. 

Other new steps taken by the bureau include a digital extension through a phone app called “reportit,” which allows its users to report tips to the bureau and learn about its workings in keeping U.S. citizens out of harm’s way. 

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