Report tracks lost firearms at DHS

By Joe Davidson
Friday, February 19, 2010

Department of Homeland Security officers don't foster a secure feeling in the homeland when they lose their guns.

Almost 300 firearms -- handguns, M-4 rifles and shotguns -- were lost by various DHS agencies during fiscal 2006-08, according to the department's inspector general. In most cases, carelessness was the culprit. The inspector general's office says "179 (74 percent) were lost because officers did not properly secure them."

Not all the blame is on the officers. The department's management and oversight of "safeguards and controls over firearms were not effective," largely because specific policies and practices were not in place, said the report released this week by Inspector General Richard L. Skinner.

Unfortunately, DHS is not alone. Previous reports by the Government Accountability Office and the Justice Department found that losing weapons is a problem in various federal law enforcement agencies. In fact, DHS had fewer losses than some other agencies.

But that's little comfort. So is the fact that the 289 missing DHS guns are a tiny fraction of the nearly 190,000 it had in its inventory as of July. The problem is still significant.

The missing arms "pose serious risks to civilians and non-civilians alike," said the study, which was reported in USA Today. "Local law enforcement organizations recovered 15 DHS firearms from felons, gang members, criminals, drug users, and teenagers."

One recovered government gun even had a gang symbol etched into the barrel. Another was found with a drug dealer during a search, and someone with cocaine had a third DHS weapon.

Too much of this is because of sloppiness by those we expect to protect and serve us. Consider these examples from the report:

-- "A CBP [Customs and Border Protection] officer left a firearm unsecured in an idling vehicle in the parking lot of a convenience store. The vehicle and firearm were stolen while the officer was inside the store. A local law enforcement officer later recovered the firearm from a suspected gang member and drug smuggler.

-- A CBP officer left a firearm on a toolbox in the bed of a truck, and the firearm fell off when the officer drove home. Law enforcement officials later recovered the firearm from an individual who resisted arrest and assaulted the arresting officer.

-- An ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] officer left an M-4 rifle and a shotgun unsecured in a closet in his home; subsequently, both firearms were stolen during a burglary. State and federal law enforcement officers later recovered these firearms from a felon.

-- An ICE officer left a firearm on the bumper of a vehicle, which fell off as the officer left his place of employment. A civilian found the firearm and turned it over to the local police.

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