Rifles, handguns and explosives keep disappearing from U.S. military inventories and ending up in the hands of known criminals or at crime scenes. A new report by the Associated Press first released Tuesday identified eight instances in which five different sets of stolen military firearms were used in civilian shootings or other violent crimes as well as other instances in which felons were caught in possession of stolen military weapons.
Through a combination of investigative efforts and government records, The Associated Press determined that approximately 1,900 U.S. military firearms were lost or stolen during the 2010s. The weapons disappeared from Navy, Marine, Army and Air Force bases, as well as firing ranges, Navy ships and other facilities where they were used or stored. Despite efforts to track down the exact total of missing firearms, the Associated Press reported the military branches have been reluctant to fully disclose the number of weapons missing from their inventories and as such the Associated Press reported its estimate of 1,900 missing weapons is likely an undercount.
While it is unclear where all missing military weapons have gone, some of them have been found at crime scenes.
In one instance, police recovered a military-issued Baretta M9 handgun after a foot chase of a suspect in Albany, New York in June 2018. Upon recovering the handgun, police determined its shell casings linked it to four different shootings between 2017 and 2018. Further investigation determined the handgun belonged to the U.S. Army base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and Army officials were not even aware the gun was stolen at the time.
In another incident, a man was able to break into a Massachusetts military armory and walk off with six automatic M4 service rifles and 10 M11 semi-automatic handguns. The man in question, James Morales, was a former Army reservist who knew the particular armory well, having picked up his discharge papers from the facility two days before the break-in.
Due to a prior rape charge, Morales wore an ankle monitoring bracelet throughout the break-in and a later trip to the home of a convicted Marijuana dealer, Tyrone James.
James received some of the firearms and sold them off to people he said he didn’t know. Morales eventually cut off the ankle monitor and tried to flee, but was caught with four of the military rifles and two of the handguns. In 2018, Morales was sentenced to 11 years in prison for the weapon thefts, but to this day, five of the stolen handguns remain unaccounted for.
“We have a very large inventory of several million of these weapons,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told the Associated Press. “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 added, “Though the numbers are small, one is too many.”
The Pentagon does not have specific reporting requirements that encompass all potential missing weapons, and is only required to report to Congress when there are “significant” incidents of missing weapons. It is not exactly clear what qualifies as a “significant” incident. A Department of Defense official, who spoke with the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said a missing portable missile launcher would qualify for notifying lawmakers but a stolen machine gun would not.