ATF publishes new report on lost, stolen guns

Last year, 1,353 firearms in Minnesota were reported lost or stolen and logged into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database.

Guns recovered by the Minneapolis Police Department in 2011. (MPR photo/Brandt Williams)

The database is used by law enforcement officers around the country to identify everything from stolen property to missing persons.  In January of this year, President Obama issued an executive order directing the Department of Justice to make this data widely available to law enforcement.

The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) followed the president’s directive and compiled the numbers. This recently-released report is the first of its kind, and ATF officials say the agency will continue to update and compile this data annually.  Click here to read the report. It shows that in 2012, the NCIC recorded reports of 190,342 lost or stolen firearms nationwide.  Nine percent of those thefts and losses (16,667) were reported by federally licensed dealers, also known as Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs).

However, ATF officials say there are some important caveats about the numbers:

“Reporting by law enforcement is voluntary, not mandatory, and thus the statistics in this report likely reveal only a fraction of the problem. Additionally, even where state and local law enforcement are consistently reporting statistics, many states do not require private citizens to report the loss or theft of a firearm to local law enforcement in the first place. As such, many lost and stolen firearms go entirely unreported.”

Minnesota law doesn’t require citizens to report lost or stolen firearms.  A bill to add that requirement was proposed at the Capitol during this year’s legislative session but died in committee.

Law enforcement officials say stolen and lost guns pose a significant threat to public safety.  Minneapolis police officials say theft is a prime source of guns used by criminals.

According to the report, the state with the most reported lost or stolen guns in the NCIC database was Texas: 18,874 (18,435 stolen, 439 lost).  To see an interactive map showing each state’s numbers, click here.  Of the 1,353 guns reported lost or stolen in the NCIC database from Minnesota, 1,303 were reported stolen.  And of the 1,353 gun losses and thefts, 169 were reported by federally licensed gun dealers. Federally licensed dealers are required to report lost or stolen guns within 48 hours of discovering the loss.

The ATF also released its annual trace reports which show how many firearms were traced by law enforcement officials in 2012.  In Minnesota, law enforcement officers traced 2,603 recovered firearms.  The majority of those guns were traced to initial purchases within the state – meaning the bulk of guns found at crime scenes, taken from people illegally possessing them or just found lying in a field somewhere were first bought in Minnesota.