We’ve been troubled by the apparent increase in the number of brazen FFL robberies and burglaries lately, and started tracking them to see if we were just seeing more reporting, or just seeing more spectacular thefts that got more media coverage — or whether these crimes are really up.
Well, ATF answered our question with a new report on thefts and losses from FFLs in the United States, and the answer is: hell, yes, thefts are up. In the last five years, the number of actual crimes is up 48% for burglaries and 175% (!) for robberies. Robberies are still much rarer than burglaries, because most criminals are not brazen and stupid enough to rob a place where armed people may expect them, but there were still 33 FFL robberies last year. And more guns are being taken in these thefts, too. Here’s a graphic depiction (source):
Along with the robberies and burglaries, larcenies are up. What’s a larceny? A theft that’s neither a robbery or burglary. In FFLs, these are often employee thefts — “inside jobs”. FFLs are plagued by shoplifters, but relatively few of these larcenies are that kind of theft. The shoplifters mostly steal small and highly portable items that are displayed openly, like ammunition or accessories.
There are many reasons for an upturn in FFL victimization. Crime is increasingly driven by organized gang activity, and gangs are well suited for some of the dynamic smash-and-grab burglaries we’ve seen in the last couple of years. Most gun shop burglars go uncaught, despite the common practice of rewards (usually, ATF will put up a reward and NSSF will double the money), so the probability of being caught is not much of a deterrent.
Judges and prosecutors tend to treat robberies and burglaries as beginner crimes, and “discount” them deeply, so the consequences of being caught is not a deterrent. The very large delta between burglaries and robberies may exist in part because the fear of being shot by a store owner, worker or customer, is a deterrent.
ATF is certainly more concerned this year than last. Last year’s infographic was focused on alerting FFLs to their reporting duties (source):
Reporting a lost or stolen inventory item, of course, is a lead-pipe guarantee that you will be assisted in doing 100% inventory by your friendly neighborhood Industry Operations Inspector.
The ATF is taking FFL thefts extremely seriously
Part of the ATF core mission is to protect the public from violent crime involving the use of firearms, including firearms stolen from FFLs and used by violent offenders in the commission of crimes, posing a substantial threat to the public and law enforcement.
A total of 18,394 lost or stolen firearms were reported nationwide last year from FFLs. Of those firearms, 9,113 were reported as lost. Firearms are considered lost when an FFL takes a firearm into its inventory and later cannot account for the disposition of the firearm from its inventory during an inventory reconciliation.
Losses (some if not most of which are certainly thefts, but can’t be proven to be thefts) are up much less than thefts. Here’s the the 2015 version of those 2016 stats in the previous paragraph:
A total of 14,800 firearms were reported lost or stolen nationwide last year from FFLs. 8,637 were reported as lost. 6,163 were reported as stolen.
Tentative conclusion: thieves have found thieving effective, and will continue thieving.
There are about 140,000 FFLs, and normally IOIs only get to about 9,000 of them in any given year. Their major focus is on documentation, regulatory compliance and inventory control.
One interesting table in the report breaks down firearms lost, burgled, robbed or larcenized by type. It’s interesting to see that (as you might expect) thieves really prefer pistols. It was a surprise to us that machine guns were stolen by burglary, but an even bigger surprise that over two dozen machine guns were lost by FFLs. As the table makes clear, pistols are more likely to be stolen than lost, but more uncommon firearms are much more likely to be lost than stolen.
|Firearm Types||Totals||Burglary Firearm Count||Larceny Firearm Count||Robbery Firearm Count||Loss Firearm Count|
|Any Other Weapons||2||–||–||–||2|
Here is one of the more brazen burglaries of 2016:
At least some of those gang members were bagged soon after the crime.
The tactic remains popular, as does the simple smash-and-grab, like this burglary in Montgomery County, Maryland last month:
You can find literally dozens of these videos on YouTube, and it is plausible that criminal organizations have learned and been inspired by the criminal equivalent of tactics, techniques and procedures as displayed in these shows. Note for instance that they’re gloved and masked, suggesting at least a minimal awareness of investigative techniques. They also proceed with minimal conversation.
Without knowing how many weapons the FFLs are holding, it’s not possible to develop usable rate information. That is a pity, as the ATF provides by-state breakdowns of losses and thefts that would be fascinating to compare to FFL numbers and inventory totals… but we can’t.
There are presently about 136,000 FFLs of all types nationwide. That makes these lines from the ATF report all the more interesting:
ATF data provides that the 10 FFLs with the most firearms reported in Theft/Loss Reports are associated with 2,582 firearms reported lost or stolen. This data is limited to Type 01 (Dealer in firearms other than destructive devices) and Type 02 (Pawnbroker in firearms other than destructive devices) FFLs.
ATF data provides that the 100* FFLs with the most firearms reported in Theft/Loss Reports are associated with 7,664 firearms reported lost or stolen. This data is limited to Type 01 (Dealer in firearms other than destructive devices) and Type 02 (Pawnbroker in firearms other than destructive devices) FFLs.
* There were 8 FFLs tied in the final ranking of the 100 Type 01 and Type 02 FFLs resulting in 107 total FFLs.
Using the 18,394 total loss and stolen number, then, 10 FFLs (0.0074% of the total, seventy-four ten-thousandths of a percent) were the source of 2,582 firearms, 14% of the total lost or stolen.
100 FFLs (0.0735%, seventy-three point five thousandths of a percent) were the source of 7,664 firearms, 41.67% of the total lost or stolen.
But those percentages might be meaningless… perhaps those 100 FFLs stock over 42% of the total firearms inventory? (It seems unlikely, but it’s possible).
Note that this report only counts firearms that disappear from FFL inventories. Firearms lost by or stolen from the Feds (hundreds annually), State and local Law Enforcement (thousands) and private citizens (untold tens of thousands) also swell criminal armories.
In any event, as long as hitting FFLs is rewarding for criminals, we can expect to see more of it.
Kevin was a former Special Forces weapons man (MOS 18B, before the 18 series, 11B with Skill Qualification Indicator of S). His focus was on weapons: their history, effects and employment. He started WeaponsMan.com in 2011 and operated it until he passed away in 2017. His work is being preserved here at the request of his family.