The Problem of Theft from FFLs

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
Pistols 8,647 4,665 858 278 2,846
Rifles 4,246 1,293 237 25 2,691
Revolvers 2,000 858 180 42 920
Shotguns 1,640 548 67 11 1,014
Receivers/Frames 1,421 52 48 4 1,317
Silencers 265 31 14 8 212
Derringers 92 31 13 1 47
Machine Guns 38 5 4 1 28
Unknown Types 29 1 2 26
Combinations 10 4 6
Destructive Devices 4 4
Any Other Weapons 2 2
Totals 18,394 7,488 1,423 370 9,113

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.

The ATF .pdf report is here; their press release on it is here; ATF’s public infographics here.

30 thoughts on “The Problem of Theft from FFLs

  1. Steve M.

    Obama’s children are keeping busy.

    CT’s largest dealer took a Dodge 3500 through the front doors about 10 years ago. The thieves surprisingly (to me) focused largely on inexpensive pistols.

    I think most of the criminals were from the nearest big city, Hartford, which is less than ten miles away. The police were able to arrest everybody involved within months, and (I think) most, but not all of the guns were recovered. I suppose one lesson for the crims would be to avoid pulling jobs in your own backyard.

    The FFL has since moved to their own building. The current layout doesn’t appear to be as easy for the smash and grabbers. I’m not close to the owner, but I would like to know if the robbery had any effect on his building design.

    Reply
    1. Sommerbiwak

      I think they grabbed the cheaper guns, because these are already in wide circulation on the streets and so are easier to sell than some custom walnut stocked hunting rifle or target pistol etc.

      I’d plant thick oaks in front of my shop and put big concrete flower buckets in between the trees to keep unwanted cars out of my shop.

      Reply
  2. John Distai

    The gun store of my youth was owned by a crotchety old WWII combat veteran and his son. The old guy, armed and not afraid of a scuffle, lived in the back of the store. I think someone attempted to rob the place late one night, and the attempt was “thwarted” somehow. I was too young to get the full details.

    Reply
  3. Eric

    A friend of mine, a retired 82d Abn 1SG/E-8, has a gunshop in a city east of Oklahoma City; it was burgled several years ago… similar hit, truck/chain/burglar bars gone, doors smashed. At least a few dozen weapons stolen, some recovered later, perps not apprehended from what I recall. Now they lock every weapon up in safes all the time, taking out just what they need, and having some display weapons on the wall, have security cameras, and an alarm app as well as the usual alarm company set-up, which is historically a very slow system to get the cops rolling your way. They have always worked armed and have cops drop by all the time, so there have not been any daylight robberies.

    Reply
  4. RivenoakArmoury

    The crew that hit the Maryland store in the video seems to have also hit three stores here in VA within about a week of that MD hit, only one was really worth it (they couldnt get in one, and the other has little inventory). They have since been caught, but no word on the guns.

    The repeditive nature of this crew’s hits suggests organized crime of some form (gangs are aplenty around here, near DC), so I wouldn’t be surprised if someone picks up where they left off.

    They would have to be incredibly stupid or unusually skilled to pull anything off here, but we never discount criminals propensity for what appears to be luck.

    Reply
  5. Kirk

    I was under the apparently mistaken impression that you were required to secure your weapons when the store wasn’t open. Every gun store I’ve paid attention to has had the policy of securing their stock every night in safes, and putting them on display every morning.

    Must be a regional thing, or I’ve just missed the ones who didn’t.

    Reply
    1. bloke_from_ohio

      As I understand it, locking everything up every night is SOP for a lot of jewelry stores. All the outfits I know of do 100% inventory every night as they pack everything away in safes or strong boxes. Since firearms are similarly highly portable, ease to resell, and valuable, I cannot see why more FFLs don’t do that.

      Obviously safes can be cracked or cut into, but it is way harder and take a little more time than smacking a glass case with a hammer.

      Reply
    2. DominicJ

      “I was under the apparently mistaken impression that you were required to secure your weapons when the store wasn’t open. ”

      I suppose that depends how you define “secure”.
      They’re in a “secure” building
      Do they have to be in a “secure” room in a “secure” building?
      Or a “secure” vault in a “secure” room in a “secure” building?
      Or a “secure” individual gun safe in a “secure” vault in a “secure” room in a “secure” building.

      And so on

      Reply
    3. Aesop

      There is no such requirement, beyond locking the front door.
      Anything beyond that is sheer prudence, and/or insurance agency guidelines.

      As more than one experienced FFL informed Baby Brother before he entered the biz, “You’re gonna get tested, and you’re gonna get hit. Make it as difficult as possible for them.”

      Reply
    4. RivenoakArmoury

      You are required to store securely as an FFL holder. The definition of “securely” is very loose, and often just means a couple of locked doors. Obviously this is a bad idea, and most FFLs do much, much more. Some IOI’s may have more or less security in mind for an FFL…but black letter law is very fuzzy.

      Reply
    5. archy

      ***Must be a regional thing, or I’ve just missed the ones who didn’t.***

      It’s a requirement from some insurance carriers, as are specifics of some alarm notification systems.
      Some of their demands make good sense if overpriced, others are plain silly window dressing, or outright window dressing.
      In some locales the police are under orders to respond slowly to gun store after-hours breakins and respond with sirens howling so that the perps are well aware when it’s time to leave. After all, the important thing is that all the cops go home when their shift is over and live to draw their taxpayer-provided retirement pay.

      Reply
  6. SPEMack

    A Gander Mtn somewhere had a brazen robbery. Guy asked to see a pistol. Smashed counter jockey in the head with it and started running.

    We got a circular about it.

    Also, in the idiot category, a clerk left an AR-15 unattened which simply disappeared

    Reply
    1. Kirk

      Then there was John Muhammad’s theft from Bull’s Eye Shooter’s Supply in Tacoma, WA, where he and Lee Malvo basically shoplifted the AR-15 clone they used in the DC Sniper shootings. And, adding insult to injury, the knuckleheads running the place didn’t even know about the gun going missing (supposedly…) until the BATF traced it back after recovering it from Muhammad and Malvo.

      Shoplift? WTF? I couldn’t even get the bastards to show me a gun in that store, a few months before this supposedly happened, and a couple of street people manage to walk off with a mid-grade AR-15? I still don’t get that one. My opinion is that there was some kind of collusion between one of the clerks and the thieves, because I still don’t find the story credible that they just walked off with the rifle, somehow. Nothing ever proven, however. I’m still like “Shoplifted it? Say, what…? How…?”. I mean it, too–I was a clean-cut guy in my late thirties at the time, military ID, and the counter guy wouldn’t let me even take a look at a rifle they had behind the counter, because the store was “…too busy…”. And, per the newspaper stories, the one that was stolen was supposedly not behind the counter, but in some kinda bin or bucket out on the store floor, with the surplus Mosin-Nagants and what-not. I’m still not buying that story, to be honest.

      Reply
  7. Eric

    I think I remember my friends guns in racks with chains run through ala military arms room secure. With burglar bars, cameras, alarms and bright lights, one would think well enough, but not in today’s criminal nation, nurtured by the previous administration.

    I think we are lucky, having our economy trashed by the Caliphate of O (Obama, the DNC and Soros, to mention a few) over the past eight years, along with promoting white hate, and criminal love, that we even have a United States remaining in 2017.

    Local democrats are demanding the funding of their pet projects and are pointing fingers at those in power today as we struggle to make the economy work… so why isn’t anyone revealing the truth?

    Reply
  8. Jonathan

    In the stores I have been to, here in the Midwest, as well as in MD where I used to live, all pistols are locked up in a safe each night. I did visit one store in Ohio last year where you stepped through a vault door to the room where they had firearms and ammo; it was a layout that would be hard to crack.

    How do you lose a machine gun or destructive device?!? I wonder how many of those losses were manufacturers or large scale dealers. I’d also be interested in seeing how many of them were transferable as compared to post samples.

    Reply
    1. staghounds

      I can’t imagine a theft from a citizen that would get more federal investigative resources than theft of a machine gun.

      Reply
  9. James

    Gun stores, and pharmacies are common targets around here. They tend to hit several surrounding towns within a week ,then a few months later make the rounds again. Rather than the truck and chain method, they often knock a hole in a back wall of the store. The videos always show two or more, and if caught they are generally from Memphis. Some obvious organization going on there, sometimes as many as half a dozen places hit in a night, then again in another town the next night.

    Reply
  10. James F.

    A guy named Derrick Mosley tried a solo daylight robbery of Discount Gun Sales in Beaverton, OR about four years ago, armed only with baseball bat, to a complete lack of success. (Armed staff.)

    What interested me at the time was that Cracked.com did a post on how D-U-M-B dumb this guy was, and illustrated it with the stock photo of a guy with bat and orange t-shirt below.

    Below that is a picture of the actual guy, and the glass case he shattered when he brought a bat to a gun fight.

    I think Cracked might have felt obliged to adopt a different tone on the D-U-M-B dumb question if they’d used that photo.

    Reply
    1. Kirk

      I think the classic in this genre was performed by one David Zaback, at H & J Firearms in Renton, WA, back in February of 1990. Zaback walked into the store around 4:00pm on a Saturday evening, when the store was full of customers, and had to walk around a marked patrol car to get to the door. He pulled a pistol, fired it in an apparent attempt at robbing the store, and was shot multiple times in the chest by the clerk. The on-duty officer fired at him, as well, but apparently attained no hits. Other customers also drew their weapons, but did not fire inasmuch as doing so would have been superfluous.

      Interestingly, the clerk was shooting a 10mm of some sort, I believe a Glock 20. Zaback made it to the hospital, but died there with four 10mm bullets in his chest. I’m unsure what load he was shot with, but I’d actually been in that store and talked to the clerk there about 10mm, and I vaguely remember him extolling the virtues of a fairly heavy and slow load at around 185 grains. I’m actually not sure if it was the same guy who did the shooting, but the gentleman I spoke with seemed like he was fairly switched-on, so I suspect it might have been him.

      Reply
      1. whomever

        That incident illustrates the frequently uncounted consequences of crime. The owner, by all accounts a nice guy, was a combat vet who had seen some things, but was coping. The shooting tilted him over the edge, and he disappeared into the life of the homeless alcoholic. Several years later, his family had no idea where he was. Just a tragedy all around.

        Reply
        1. Kirk

          You’re talking the owner of H & J Firearms? I hadn’t heard about that, at all…

          Was he even there, that day? I thought the guy who did the shooting was an employee, and manning the store by himself–Or, that was the story I heard, second- or third-hand.

          Reply
          1. whomever

            The place I’m thinking of was on the SW corner of Sunset Way and Union, on the Highlands, in a little strip mall. I don’t remember the name (of store or owner). The details match – owner and deputy present, robber fires round into ceiling to announce the holdup (or suicide by cop, possibly), and owner and deputy return fire.

            It’s possible that:
            A)my details (or memory) are wrong
            B)there were two similar robberies in Renton.

            I’d been there several times, enough to peg the owner as a good guy, and read about the robbery in the paper. When the store never reopened, I asked around and heard what I related.

          2. Kirk

            I knew they went out of business not long after, but I didn’t know why.

            Sad that he suffered that, and for what? I’m sort of suspicious that Zaback was trying for “suicide by cop”, but I don’t know that anyone has established what the hell he was thinking, for sure. No suicide note, no mention of anyone he was close to thinking he was, or saying anything of the sort.

            And, supposedly, he was a law-abiding citizen prior to the robbery attempt, but did have mental issues. The family said they didn’t know where he got the gun, which is described as a “.38 caliber automatic”, so I have to wonder if he was using a Smith & Wesson Model 52, or something they described improperly in the media. If it was a Model 52, that’s kinda evidence for mental illness, right there…

          3. James F.

            Here’s the newspaper report of the inquest,. Briefly, Zaback, who had (probably) a .380, and got off at least one shot, was shot seven time, four 10mms from a store clerk named Danny Morris, three 9mms from a local uniformed policeman.

            It was the 10mm that actually killed him.

            Several other people apparently pulled, but didn’t fire. The internet email versions sometimes say he was hit 23 times, but this is the official version.

            Inquest: Officer Didn’t Fire Fatal Shot — Jury Rules In Slaying Of Gunman In Renton
            By Christy Scattarella
            RENTON – An inquest jury deliberated only 35 minutes yesterday before finding that a King County police officer had reason to believe he was in danger when he shot a Renton man during a holdup in February.

            The Renton District Court jury also ruled 5-1 that Officer Timothy Lally did not fire the shot that killed David Zaback, 33. Both Lally and a store clerk fired at Zaback.

            “It’s unfortunate that it (the shooting) happened, but I can’t complain about the outcome,” said Lally, 49, a patrol officer in the Maple Valley precinct and an 18-year veteran of the force.

            Zaback’s family did not attend the inquest. The dead man’s brother, Dan Zaback of Bellevue, said in a telephone interview, “We accept the decision.”

            He added that his brother had been under a psychiatrist’s care.

            On the afternoon of Feb. 3, Zaback, brandishing a .38-caliber semiautomatic pistol, entered H & J Leather & Firearms Ltd. in Renton, according to police.

            “He took a shooting stance and said, `The gun is loaded. I have a round in the chamber, and I will shoot,’ ” testified store owner Wendall Woodall, who was standing just inside the front door. “He said it twice.”

            Zaback then ordered those inside – including Lally, who was in uniform and had stopped by to have coffee with Woodall before going on duty, – to place their hands on the gun counter, Woodall said.

            Danny Morris, a clerk at the store, said he stepped behind a file cabinet, pulled out his 10mm semiautomatic pistol and remained out of sight while Zaback held his gun on the customers.

            Lally said he moved behind another file cabinet, raised his 9mm semiautomatic pistol and ordered Zaback to drop the gun.

            Exactly what happened next is uncertain.

            Morris said he fired first after Zaback turned his gun toward Lally. “I was sure he was going to shoot Officer Lally, and I fired three times,” Morris testified.

            Lally said it was Zaback who fired first. “He turned toward me and fired a shot. I fired back at him,” Lally said. The officer’s gun then misfired and he crouched while trying to fix it.

            Zaback, who had fired three times, was shot three times in the chest and once in the arm. He died a few hours later at Harborview Medical Center. A bullet in Zaback’s spine most likely was the one that killed him, said King County Medical Examiner Donald Reay. That bullet came from Morris’ gun, said Frank Lee, a Washington State Crime Laboratory ballistics expert.

            Inquest juries do not determine guilt or innocence, but the King County prosecutor will consider the jury’s decision in deciding whether to file charges against Lally or Morris, said Deputy Prosecutor

            Kyle Aiken.

            — Times staff reporter Anita Cal contributed to this report.

    2. Mike_C

      James F.: I believe you are flaunting your non-idiot privilege. Shame! Shame! Shame!

      As the cousin of a [deceased] would’ve been particle physicist, neurosurgeon, test pilot and rap artiste once famously said: “You have to look at it from every child’s point of view that was raised in the hood. You have to understand… how he gonna get his money to have clothes to go to school?”
      – Nautika “my parents tried, and failed, to name me after a line of shitty ‘lifestyle’ clothing” Harris

      Looks like Cracked put up a photo of a Red Lectroid by accident. Common mistake; can’t blame ’em really.

      Reply
      1. archy

        *** – Nautika “my parents tried, and failed, to name me after a line of shitty ‘lifestyle’ clothing” Harris***

        My alltime favorite remains the son of the King family, with more creative originality than would allow naming their new baby boy after Martin Luther King. Instead, he got the first name *Nosmo*, derived from a sign in the hospital emergency waiting room:

        NoSmo king.

        Reply

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