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Thousands of guns, gun parts stolen from ATF

An AR-15 style rifle, shotgun, two 9mm handguns, magazines captured by the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office. (Philadelphia Sheriff's Office photo/Released)
November 01, 2022

Thousands of guns and gun parts were stolen from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) between 2016 and 2019, according to the Justice Department Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

And despite being caught with lax and unheeded security protocols that enabled the theft, the ATF still hasn’t gone far enough to protect the thousands of firearms it marks for destruction each year, the Justice Department OIG recently announced.

The ATF is still tightening up its own security even as the agency revokes gun store licenses at its highest rate since 2006, according to USA Today, amid President Joe Biden’s “zero tolerance” policy that revokes licenses after a gun dealer’s first federal offense.

At the National Destruction Branch in West Virginia, where the ATF destroys firearms, workers are propping open doors and letting unauthorized people into secure areas, according to the Justice Department’s September audit.

The report said that guns seized during the ATF’s controversial “Operation Fast and Furious” investigation were laying on top of a vault instead of inside it. Workers also handled guns when they didn’t need to and weren’t tracking the guns kept in a “temporary” storage area at all.

That’s despite the fact that a security guard was recently sentenced to 14 years in prison for stealing and selling thousands of firearms and parts from that facility from 2016 to 2019.

That guard single-handedly stole more than 4,600 guns and parts, including 3,000 slides; at least 15 rifles; 80 handguns; at least 10 lower receivers, the central component of an AR-style rifle; and four machine guns, according to a Justice Department press release.

After that guard was caught, one investigation found that they had been able to access the NDB even at night and on the weekends, when employees weren’t there. The investigation also found that at one point, intact weapons had been left for days in unsecured boxes while the destruction machinery wasn’t working.

Several investigations came up with many ways to improve security at the National Destruction Branch. The Justice Department’s audit said the ATF has made good on “several” of them, but hasn’t followed through on recommendations to make a few more hires and not store any guns that aren’t actually being destroyed.

The audit identified several next steps for the ATF, including tightening up on procedures that workers follow only selectively. In a response, the ATF agreed to follow all 10 recommendations.