Special Report

23 Ways Federal Agents Lose Their Own Weapons

Juanmonino / E+ via Getty Images

When most Americans make a mistake at work, it is rarely a matter of life and death. When law enforcement workers have a lapse in judgment, however, it can have serious consequences, particularly at the highest levels. 

For many federal agents, carrying a firearm is a daily requirement. And although there are strict protocols and guidelines about the safe handling and storing of the weapons, some still get lost or stolen. Every year, deadly weapons that belong to the federal government, including rifles, shotguns, and even submachine guns, end up in the wrong hands. (Here is a look at the most dangerous jobs in America.

According to audit reports from the Office of the Inspector General, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, 120 firearms have been either lost or stolen from federal agents in recent years – and only about half of them have been recovered. Some recovered firearms were determined to have been used in a crime, and many of those that remain missing may yet be. 

Whenever a federal agent’s service weapon goes missing, the circumstances surrounding the incident are logged. Using data from OIG audits of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, and the U.S. Marshal Service, 24/7 Wall St. identified the most common ways federal agents lose their firearms. While some instances involve some degree of carelessness, others, such as burglary and theft, are harder to avoid. 

In the years covered by OIG audits for each agency, over a dozen firearms were lost by federal agents who left them in public places, including restrooms, restaurants, subways, and hotels. Many others were simply misplaced.

Most commonly, however, a missing firearm is often the result of a theft, particularly from a car or truck. According to OIG audit reports, 40 firearms have been stolen from government vehicles, nine from personal vehicles, and another five were left in vehicles that themselves were stolen. (These are the most popular police firearms.)

These figures do not include the three handguns and one shotgun that were lost after being left on top of a trailer or a vehicle’s bumper, roof, or trunk. 

Click here to see 23 ways federal agents lose their own weapons.

Click here to see our detailed methodology.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

23. Firearm thrown out
> Total firearms involved: 1 handgun
> Firearms recovered: None
> Agency involved: ATF
> Disciplinary action severity: None (agent retired)

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Source: MangoStar_Studio / iStock via Getty Images

22. Firearm stolen from hotel room
> Total firearms involved: 1 handgun
> Firearms recovered: 1 handgun (100% of total)
> Agency involved: FBI
> Disciplinary action severity: Dismissal

Source: statedeptdss / Flickr

21. Firearm stolen during shipping
> Total firearms involved: 1 handgun
> Firearms recovered: None
> Agency involved: ATF
> Disciplinary action severity: None

Source: krblokhin / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

20. Firearm stolen by family member
> Total firearms involved: 1 handgun
> Firearms recovered: 1 handgun (100% of total)
> Agency involved: FBI
> Disciplinary action severity: 3-day suspension

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Source: Bim / E+ via Getty Images

19. Firearm stolen at airport
> Total firearms involved: 1 unknown
> Firearms recovered: 1 unknown (100% of total)
> Agency involved: FBI
> Disciplinary action severity: 5-day suspension

Source: jashlock / E+ via Getty Images

18. Firearm lost while riding motorcycle
> Total firearms involved: 1 handgun
> Firearms recovered: 1 handgun (100% of total)
> Agency involved: DEA
> Disciplinary action severity: 5-day suspension

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Source: Kichigin / iStock via Getty Images

17. Firearm lost while hunting
> Total firearms involved: 1 handgun
> Firearms recovered: 1 handgun (100% of total)
> Agency involved: DEA
> Disciplinary action severity: 3-day suspension

Source: txking / iStock via Getty Images

16. Firearm lost in a prison facility
> Total firearms involved: 1 handgun
> Firearms recovered: 1 handgun (100% of total)
> Agency involved: FBI
> Disciplinary action severity: 7-day suspension

Source: PeopleImages / iStock via Getty Images

15. Firearm left on public transportation
> Total firearms involved: 1 handgun
> Firearms recovered: 1 handgun (100% of total)
> Agency involved: ATF
> Disciplinary action severity: 10-day suspension

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Source: Milos Spasic / iStock via Getty Images

14. Firearm left in a public area
> Total firearms involved: 1 handgun
> Firearms recovered: 1 handgun (100% of total)
> Agency involved: FBI
> Disciplinary action severity: 3-day suspension

Source: salarko / iStock via Getty Images

13. Firearm lost in the mail
> Total firearms involved: 2 rifles
> Firearms recovered: 2 rifles (100% of total)
> Agency involved: ATF
> Range of disciplinary action severity: None

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Source: Darwin Brandis / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

12. Firearm lost during training exercise
> Total firearms involved: 2 handguns
> Firearms recovered: None
> Agencies involved: DEA, FBI
> Range of disciplinary action severity: None – 3-day suspension

Source: FuzzMartin / iStock via Getty Images

11. Firearm left in a hotel
> Total firearms involved: 2 handguns, 1 unknown
> Firearms recovered: 2 handguns, 1 unknown (100% of total)
> Agencies involved: DEA, FBI
> Range of disciplinary action severity: 3-day – 5-day suspension

Source: John Strohsacker / Getty Images News via Getty Images

10. Firearm lost after being left on a vehicle
> Total firearms involved: 3 handguns, 1 shotgun
> Firearms recovered: 3 handguns, 1 shotgun (100% of total)
> Agencies involved: ATF, DEA, FBI
> Range of disciplinary action severity: 3-day – 5-day suspension

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Source: Photobuff / iStock via Getty Images

9. Firearm left in a restaurant
> Total firearms involved: 4 handguns
> Firearms recovered: 4 handguns (100% of total)
> Agencies involved: ATF, DEA, FBI
> Range of disciplinary action severity: Letter of reprimand – 8-day suspension

Source: D. Lentz / E+ via Getty Images

8. Firearm left in a public restroom
> Total firearms involved: 2 handguns, 2 unknown
> Firearms recovered: 2 handguns, 2 unknown (100% of total)
> Agencies involved: FBI, US Marshals
> Range of disciplinary action severity: 1-day – 4-day suspension

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7. Firearm left inside a vehicle that was stolen
> Total firearms involved: 3 handguns, 1 shotgun, 1 rifle
> Firearms recovered: 1 handgun, 1 shotgun (40.0% of total)
> Agency involved: US Marshals
> Range of disciplinary action severity: Pending – none

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

6. Firearm lost after being left in a vehicle
> Total firearms involved: 6 handguns
> Firearms recovered: 4 handguns (66.7% of total)
> Agencies involved: DEA, US Marshals
> Range of disciplinary action severity: None – 5-day suspension

Source: Pro2sound / iStock via Getty Images

5. Firearm stolen or lost due to inadequate safeguarding
> Total firearms involved: 5 handguns, 2 submachine guns
> Firearms recovered: 2 handguns (28.6% of total)
> Agency involved: FBI
> Range of disciplinary action severity: 3-day – 5-day suspension

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Source: LawrenceSawyer / E+ via Getty Images

4. Firearm stolen from residence
> Total firearms involved: 6 handguns, 1 shotgun
> Firearms recovered: 2 handguns (28.6% of total)
> Agencies involved: ATF, DEA, FBI, US Marshals
> Range of disciplinary action severity: None – 45-day suspension

Source: urbazon / E+ / Getty Images

3. Firearm stolen from personal vehicle
> Total firearms involved: 8 handguns, 1 carbine
> Firearms recovered: 1 handgun (11.1% of total)
> Agencies involved: ATF, DEA, FBI, US Marshals
> Range of disciplinary action severity: 3-day – 60-day suspension

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Source: Juanmonino / E+ via Getty Images

2. Firearm misplaced/went missing
> Total firearms involved: 16 handguns, 1 rifle
> Firearms recovered: 9 handguns, 1 rifle (58.8% of total)
> Agencies involved: ATF, DEA, FBI, US Marshals
> Range of disciplinary action severity: None – 25-day suspension

1. Firearm stolen from government vehicle
> Total firearms involved: 22 handguns, 7 carbines, 5 shotguns, 3 submachine guns, 3 rifles
> Firearms recovered: 5 handguns, 3 carbines, 3 shotguns, 2 submachine guns, 2 rifles (37.5% of total)
> Agencies involved: ATF, DEA, FBI, US Marshals
> Range of disciplinary action severity: None – 35-day suspension

Methodology

To identify the most common ways federal law enforcement agents lose their firearms, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed audit data from the Office of the Inspector General, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice. The four federal agencies audited by the OIG are the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, and the U.S. Marshal Service. We ranked each of the circumstances by the number of firearms federal agents reported either lost or stolen over the periods covered in each audit. 

The ATF audit covers all firearms lost or stolen over the four years from fiscal 2014 to fiscal 2017, the DEA audit spans five years from fiscal 2014 to fiscal 2018, the FBI audit period is from September 2015 through July 2019, and the U.S. Marshal Service audit covers fiscal 2015 through April 2018. 

All data in this story, including the number and types of firearms stolen or lost, the number and types of firearms recovered, and disciplinary action taken are from the OIG reports.

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