Cops figure out M16 missing for seven years, others blow whistle on vanished guns
Ever put something down and aren't sure later what you did with it? Ever done that with a gun? It can happen. Just ask police in Utah and New Mexico who found out the hard way recently. The very messy newspaper kind of hard way.
Back in 1998, the Department of Defense loaned the Davis County Sheriff's Office twenty M16A1 rifles. You know the old A1 don't you, it's the Vietnam-era 5.56mm fun gun that was used over in Southeast Asia for the better part of a decade. It remained in the military's arsenals until after the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s when the newer M16A2, A4, and M4 models among others replaced it.
(Rock and Roll!)
Well the DOD, having all these surplus guns laying around, allowed law enforcement agencies who desired them to take possession of these guns under an activity known as the 1033 Program. In this, the military gives surplus equipment ranging from flak vests to typewriters and helicopters to needy law enforcement agencies, sometimes for a nominal fee.
The 1033 Program also gives out weapons, such as the 20 M16s to Davis County. Now these are loans and Uncle can ask for them back at any time. Therefore, they aren't the agency's property to sell or dispose of.
(Current stocks and availability through the 1033 Program)
Now this isn't new. Back in the 1950s and 60s the military gave out everything from old Thompson submachine guns and .38 revolvers to M8 Greyhound Armored cars to departments under the old Civil Defense programs of the time. In 1997 this got changed to the more vanilla-sounding 1033 Progam designation.
(Since 2011, the 1033 Program has loaned out some 29,084 military-grade weapons to law enforcement, worth over $15 million. )
While the fact that Davis County only has 42 patrol deputies and received 20 M16s may seem like a lot, compare this to larger departments.
For instance, the Philadelphia Police Department employs some 6000 officers and received 1356 Vietnam-era M16A1 rifles through the 1033 Program in August of 2009. Now that's a lot of M16s.
Currently, the program is conducting yearly weapons checks that include sending in a picture of the gun's serial number, which is new.
The thing is, in a 2013 audit, the Davis County Sheriff's Office could only account for 19 of these full auto weapons. One was missing.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the last time anyone is known to have seen it was in 2006.
At the time, Davis County Sheriff Todd Richardson said it's only a matter of time before the rifle is found. And anyone who knowingly possesses the rifle will be prosecuted, even if that person is or was a peace officer.
"If it was procured by somebody who found it," Richardson said, "they are in possession of a stolen rifle and they're going to suffer consequences for it."
Then, as soon as the story came out, the gun was found by a deputy who had deployed overseas with the military and had been issued the gun after 2006. After hearing the reports of the lost M16, "his memory was sparked, he went to his gun safe to check, then made the call to his superior."
Utah isnt alone with these problems. An audit of 1033 Program guns in Georgia found 25 weapons including 4 M16s, 7 M14s, 13 1911 .45ACPs, and a .38 are all listed as missing in the Peachtree State over the past few years.
Now for something really weird.
In 2012 a Fairbanks, Alaska police officer made a traffic stop on one Saxon Quinn Ewing, 26, and found Mr. Ewing with one Glock .357 handgun. Well when the Fairbanks Police traced the serial number of the Glock, it came up as belonging to the New Mexico State Police, who had the gun on inventory at the state police academy.
This led to a strange year long saga of whistle-blowing, memos, emails, phone calls, and meetings among members of the state police for weeks and months that now has four instructors at the academy embroiled in a lawsuit against the state.
The instructors allege that when they found out about missing weapons from the academy, they were told to keep it quiet. Ewing meanwhile, was able to get his gun back.
According to state officials, they now maintain the Glock in question was legally sold in 2009 as part of an upgrade to S&W M&P series pistols through a distributor in Massachusetts-but apparently it took them over a year to figure that out.
Therefore, like the Utah case, eventually everything was found, but only after a lot of drama that played out in the press and undermined the perceived efficiency of both of those agencies.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not perfect and have lost things before. In my day job, I have had to account for as many as 200 firearms in our armory at any given time and I know that cold chill that runs down your spine when you are doing an inventory and you think you just came up short.
So take this as a cautionary tale and keep up with your guns.
Oh, and if someone offers you a good deal on a gently used US Property-marked M16A1 or M-14, maybe call it in, just to make sure.