07/06/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Where Have All The Lost Guns Gone?

If you ran a pharmacy and lost 82 bottles of, say, Oxycontin every day do you think anyone would notice?

If you were in charge of a day care center and you misplaced 82 children every day what do you think might happen?

If your business made crucial bomb components and 82 of them went missing every day do you think there would be consequences?

It probably wouldn't be very long before some form of government agency came knocking on your door, right? You'd probably be arrested, maybe put on trial; certainly you'd be put out of business for putting the public in danger.

Well, if your business is a gun shop you needn't worry if you loose track of a chunk of your potentially deadly inventory. Chances are the grossly under funded Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives won't soon come by to check. Under law the ATF can only inspect a gun store once a year and during last year's swing through the country the ATF could only afford to visit ten thousand of the nation's 60 thousand gun shops.

What they found by talking to those gun shop owners and looking at their ledger books was chilling. Earlier this month the ATF quietly revealed that the owners admitted a substantial part of their inventory was either "missing, lost or stolen." After adding it all up the ATF concluded that, collectively, those registered gun dealers "lost" 82 firearms every single day! Take the math forward and it's a startling 30 thousand unregistered, untraceable guns in just the 2007 fiscal year.

And, realize, this is what the government found by interviewing just one-sixth of the country's gun shop owners. The actual figures could be far higher.

The ATF quietly revealed the figures because every time the Bureau comes out with such statistics, sources tell me, the National Rifle Association comes out swinging - hard - calling ATF inspectors "jackbooted thugs" and worse. (I would think "thugs" would stop by more than once a year - but I digress.) The ATF findings were noticed, analyzed and then publicized by the Brady Campaign for the Prevention of Gun Violence.

The N.R.A. sneers at the method of disclosure.

"No one in American should place any faith in any alleged study coming from the Brady Campaign," said N.R.A. spokesman Andrew Arulanandam.

Who cares who brought the news to the public's attention? Stop and think about this.

Last year our streets were flooded with at least 30 thousand more guns which cannot be traced. There is absolutely no way for authorities to know who has them and what they might be using them for. Common sense tells us it is not the law-abiding citizen who wants an unregistered, untraceable firearm.

The possibilities for those guns scare the hell out of me.

So, how do guns just disappear? Some are stolen by either employees or customers. It's been reported that John Muhammad (the older of the two D.C. Snipers) told investigators he had shoplifted the 35 inch long carbine rifle he used to kill 10 people in 2002. That store just happened to be Bull's Eye Shooter Supply in Tacoma, Washington which had already been targeted by the ATF and had a long history of sloppy records and sales. The Feds revoked the store's license in July 2003 but the owner simply transferred ownership of the store to a friend and continued business.

Experts in the field say a huge majority, like 90%, of gun shop owners are completely legit. They work hard to keep their ledger books up-to-date with every transaction and they insist on doing everything right. It's rare that the ATF moves to strip a gun shop of its federal license to sell. But the sad fact is that some shop owners deliberately divert firearms to criminals for big money.

That's what authorities feared was happening with NRA board member Sanford Abrams in Parkville, Maryland. He had been "loosing track" of guns from his Valley Gun Shop inventory for nearly a decade. An ATF inspection in 2003 revealed hundreds of guns unaccounted for during just that year. Later 483 Valley Gun Shop guns were used in the commission of crimes, including 41 assaults and 11 homicides. Abrams' license was finally yanked - in February 2006.

Look, I'm all for the constitutionally protected right to bear arms and defend ourselves. I am. But guns -like our cars, our doctors, our sex offenders and our nuclear waste - things must be kept track of in this country. We need to know who has a firearm and if they use it where we can find them to ask questions afterward.

I also think the ATF needs more funding to conduct many more of these annual inspections. ###

Diane Dimond's website is You can reach her at