In a deep investigation, the Associated Press has uncovered that at least 1,900 military weapons have been lost or stolen in the last decade. Many of them ended up being involved in violent crimes. 

In one case, an M9 pistol that was stolen from Ft. Bragg, NC was used in four shootings in New York. More alarming to investigators was that the pistol, which was recovered by police in Albany, NY wasn’t even considered missing until police reached out to the military with the weapon’s serial numbers. 

For Years, the Army and Air Force Did Not Know the Number of Missing Weapons

The Pentagon used to share with members of Congress the number of weapons that were either lost or stolen. Nevertheless, that requirement ended years ago. So, using the Freedom of Information Act requests, the AP reviewed hundreds of military criminal case files or property loss reports of small arms.

A recovered stolen M4 carbine with the serial numbers. (Associated Press)

According to the AP’s report, the Army and Air Force couldn’t even pinpoint the number of weapons that have disappeared in the decade between 2010 and 2019. Furthermore, the Associated Press stated the military is trying to suppress those numbers. 

Army and Marine officials told the AP that weapon accountability is a very high priority. This is something that anyone who has ever served in an airborne unit can attest to. Sometimes weapons break free and are lost during airborne operations. When that happens, all training and movement stop, the entire unit is placed online, and the area is searched until the weapon is found or accounted for. 

However, that doesn’t apply to the criminal act of stealing weapons, which while rare, does happen.

In one case in Massachusetts in November 2015, James Morales, an Army reservist who was suffering from drug and alcohol problems and had just been discharged, broke into his former unit’s weapons vault. 

For some reason, the alarms never went off. He went in and out of the vault nine times and emerged with six M4 carbines and 10 M11 pistols, the military version of the SIG Sauer P228 pistol. 

Morales gave one M4 and five M11s to a convicted drug dealer in Boston to sell and ditched one M4 and two M11s in a trash bin near Yankee Stadium. He was caught shortly afterward with four M4s and two M11s in Westbury, NY. Five of the pistols have still not been recovered. 

While awaiting charges for the theft, Morales escaped from jail and committed two bank robberies before being caught again. He was sentenced to 11.5 years for the theft and bank robberies. 

Stolen Weapons and Problem of Accountability

While missing weapons is not a widespread issue with the military considering the millions of weapons that the services possess, accountability is a big issue. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said to the AP, “We have a very large inventory of several million of these weapons. We take this very seriously and we think we do a very good job. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t losses. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t mistakes made.”

James Morales stole weapons
Former Army Reservist James Morales was convicted of breaking into an armory in Worcester, MA, and stealing six M4 carbines and 10 pistols.

Kirby said that last year the military could account for 99.999 percent of its firearms. “Though the numbers are small, one is too many,” he added. But the military’s accounting for weapons, in many cases has been poor. For example, the pistol that was recovered in Albany was being reported “in transit” between two units on Ft. Bragg for two years. 

Ft. Bragg and the Marine base at Camp Lejeune have been frequent targets of weapon thieves. The AP report cited the theft of 21 M9 pistols stolen from an arms room at Ft. Bragg. Authorities at Camp Lejuene have an open investigation regarding three missing pistols from an arms room. One was recovered in Baltimore, MD during a cocaine bust.

Also in the report was a theft from a South Carolina National Guard Armory in which six M4s, an M203 grenade launcher, and five M9s were stolen. And over a decade ago, 26 AK-74s were stolen from Ft. Irwin, CA. Authorities have recovered some of those weapons after crimes committed by a street gang. 

This hasn’t been happening only in the U.S. either: a cache of 65 M9s was stolen in Afghanistan when someone cut the lock off of the weapons container. 

The military is supposed to conduct weapons accountability daily, even in arms rooms. Yet, it frequently has lapses or troops fudge the paperwork and don’t really follow through with the accounting. 

In many of the thefts, lower-ranking troops that are familiar with the weapon storage areas, know the inherent weaknesses of the system and how the weapons can be accessed.