Nearly 900 firearms were lost or stolen from Georgia gun dealers last year, which ranks the state among the Top 5, according to federal data released this month.
A 2013 analysis conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives shows that federal firearms license holders in Georgia ranked third in incidents (134) behind Texas and Florida, and fourth in total guns reported lost or stolen (899) behind Kentucky, New York and Virginia.
Federal license-holders in South Carolina ranked 13th in reports filed (65) behind North Carolina and Tennessee, and 24 in total firearms lost or stolen (260) behind Louisiana and New Hampshire.
No firearms were reported lost or stolen by dealers last year in Columbia County, according to the sheriff’s office.
The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office “does not store (or) house” information on firearm thefts and losses among federally licensed manufacturers and sellers, Sgt. Shane McDaniel, a spokesman, said in an e-mail.
Atlanta ATF spokeswoman Regina Milledge said the bureau does not break down thefts and losses by county. The agency stated in a news release that federal firearms licensees must report thefts and losses to its offices and “appropriate local law enforcement.”
“Increased visibility through directed patrols has proven to be an effective tool,” Columbia County Sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris said of his office’s success. “We also have received tremendous support from our citizens in the way of reporting suspicious activity, and of course, our business owners are doing their part by installing surveillance and alarm systems.”
The ATF’s new annual report is part of President Obama’s series of 23 executive orders signed in 2013 to reduce gun violence in response to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
One of the actions required the Department of Justice, which tracks thefts and losses through its Firearms Tracing System, to prepare a report analyzing information on misplaced and stolen guns, and to make the report widely available to law enforcement.
Firearms of all types were lost or stolen nationwide and in Puerto Rico last year totaled 19,601, with the vast majority – 76 percent – being classified as lost, according to the report, which was released April 8.
Though the ATF stated in a news release that the report is an “important tool” in efforts to reduce firearms trafficking and related crimes, one gun shop in downtown Augusta said the analysis painted an incomplete picture of theft and losses.
Sidney’s Department Store, which has an inventory that tops 1,000 firearms, said that nearly a third of firearms reported lost (6,713) came from internal audits of manufacturers in Kentucky and New York, the only two states to provide such data.
Though Georgia had more incidents of lost or stolen firearms than Kentucky (63 reports) and New York (29 reports) combined, it misplaced significantly fewer guns than the two states, which lost 3,644 and 3,069 weapons, respectively.
Firearm receivers – the manufactured part of a gun that houses its operating pieces – accounted for 6,156 of the nationwide losses.
Burglary, larceny and robbery reports were highest in Georgia, where gun shops lost 459 firearms in 56 incidents. Handguns are the choice target for gun theft, accounting for 56 percent, or 2,539 of the 4,524 guns of all kinds taken through burglary, larceny or robbery from federal license holders in 2013.
Although Milledge said there is no information explaining Georgia’s high national rankings, Sidney’s Department Store President Steven Fishman said a majority of firearms are either lost through the shipping industry or by manufacturers who recycle receivers that fail to pass inspection.
Fishman, whose family-owned store has been involved in the firearms industry for 120 years, said if receivers do not meet necessary criteria, they’re melted and recycled into a new firearm, without the lost and serial-numbered frame being reported to ATF in 48 hours, as required by law.
“I just don’t think we have license-holders misappropriating inventory,” Fishman said of Georgia and Augusta.
Since 1982, Fishman said, his business had 11 firearms lost or stolen, some being taken by a former employee and others lost when the store’s building collapsed in 1994.
“Our inventory is consistent,” he said. “For us to have more than 1,000 firearms in our facility at a time and only have 1 percent go missing in the past 30 years is a miracle.”
Despite questioning some of its findings, Fishman said ATF is a necessary force for regulating gun laws.
Milledge, who represents the ATF’s Atlanta Field Division, said the bureau conducts inspections and mails open letters to federal license-holders in Georgia to educate them on how to best secure their firearms and what procedures to follow in event of a theft or loss.
“This is something that we are very proactive in working with our industry members to ensure that they know what precautions to take to minimize theft or losses of their firearms inventory,” she said.