At least 1,900 U.S. military firearms were lost or stolen during the 2010s, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.
In a more than 10-year investigation, the AP found that some of the missing firearms – which included rifles, handguns, machine guns, grenade launchers, rocket launchers, mortars and shotguns lost or stolen across the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force – were recovered after they were used in violent crimes.
Some of the armed services did not release basic information on the lost or stolen guns, making it extremely likely the numbers the outlet obtained were an undercount, the AP concluded.
Asked about the AP report later on Tuesday, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said she had seen it and “certainly we take this situation very, very seriously,” but downplayed the number of cases of missing firearms.
“My understanding is that the cases of weapons from any branch of the services being unaccounted for and getting into the hands of civilians is likely to be a small number, but particularly given these reports I commit to you that this is something that we will look into and certainly . . . make sure we have situational awareness of that situation in the Army,” Wormuth said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
But Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who asked Wormuth about the report, pressed that 1,900 lost or stolen weapons “is not exactly a small number.”
“This report is absolutely blood curdling, the idea that pistols, assault weapons, grenade launchers are missing from armories of the United States military because they have been lost or stolen without any apparent accounting, without any reporting to Congress or to the FBI or to the [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] . . . is just incredibly alarming and astonishing,” Blumenthal said.
He also pressed the Army’s top civilian on whether her service would commit to Congress on sharing annual updates about lost or stolen firearms. The Pentagon had previously shared such updates with lawmakers but hasn’t since at least 2017 as the requirement to do so ended.
Wormuth would only commit to look into the matter and “share what we know,” adding that the Army “would be open to a reporting requirement.”
The Army, the largest of the services, is responsible for a majority of the Pentagon's small arms, about 3.1 million of the total estimated 4.5 million firearms, according to the nonprofit organization Small Arms Survey.
Using government records, the AP found that the military firearms disappeared from places where they were used, stored or moved, including armories, supply warehouses, Navy ships, and firing ranges.
The weapons vanished due to a variety of reasons, such as break-ins, sleeping troops, a flawed surveillance system, and other security issues that have not been previously reported.
The weapons then entered the public primarily through direct sales from thieves to buyers, pawn shops and surplus stores and online sales.
Rifles were the most-often lost or stolen weapons, making up 1,179 of the cases, followed by handguns, 694 of which went missing.
In one case in Afghanistan, a padlock was cut on an Army container and 65 Beretta M9s were stolen, a theft that went undetected for at least two weeks with the weapons never recovered.
The cases also happened at bases and other locations across the United States and overseas and even in elite units.
And once they went missing, several military firearms ended up in the hands of criminals.
The AP found eight instances in which five different types of military firearms that were stolen were used in a civilian shooting or other violent crime. Other such weapons were found on felons that were caught.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told the AP the Defense Department oversees “a very large inventory of several million of these weapons.”
“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,” Kirby said.
“Though the numbers are small, one is too many.”
The Air Force was the sole service to not release data, while the Army could not answer basic questions about missing weapons as it said incident reports on these cases are only kept for three years.
The Marine Corps and Navy did provide data covering the 2010s to the AP.
Information from the Navy revealed that 211 firearms were reported lost or stolen, with 63 firearms recovered. The Marines, meanwhile, had 204 firearms lost or stolen, with 14 recovered.