HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - New Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives data shows Alabama leads the nation in gun loss at gun shops.
The new report shows national firearm theft and losses in gun shops increased by 3,594 firearms this year compared to the numbers from 2015. In 2016, a total of 18,394 firearms were unaccounted for through burglary, larceny, robbery, and loss. The national total was 14,800 in 2015.
"Losses and thefts of firearms have increased dramatically in terms of the gun stores," said ATF Special Agent Michael Knight.
But that's not the only disturbing thing the recent data reveals.
"Also, what has increased extremely, at a high rate, is the armed robberies," he said, "and this is a violent crime. This means that the public could potentially be at arms length of the criminal element who are focusing on these gun stores."
The data also breaks down gun theft and loss per state. It reveals that Alabama is among the top in each.
As far as thefts go, 340 firearms were stolen from shops in Alabama in 2016.
But when you look at the totals, Georgia saw the most total incidents with 1,539 weapons unaccounted for in 2016. Alabama's total of losses and theft is 1,182.
Alabama leads the nation in gun loss at gun stores, with 842. Loss differs from theft because it happens inside the stores, discovered through inventory processes.
"A loss could indicate the firearm was not recorded properly in one form or another from the gun shop," explained Knight, "or, potentially, an internal theft."
Knight said the data can be misleading though. The amount of theft and loss in states including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Texas may be highest, but it should also be taken into account that there are more guns here than in other states.
"Whenever you have a larger number of firearms, even if they are legal firearms, you have more interest in the criminal element to look at the area," said Knight. "There are just a lot of firearms, legally, in [Alabama.]" And he said that means there are more guns to steal illegally.
Nationally, pistols were the most likely weapon to be stolen or lost. Data shows 8,647 were lost or stolen in 2016, compared to 4,246 rifles and 2,000 revolvers.
Knight urges stores to keep better records of guns that are bought, sold, or sent back to the manufacturer. That can decrease the amount of losses, because stores will have a better idea of where their inventory is.
He also urges the public to practice due diligence when purchasing a weapon.
"I think the public should be aware if they are making a transaction, purchasing a firearm," he said. "If they want to go to a gun shop and get a background check, to see if that gun is stolen," he recommended.
He recommends also keeping a close eye on your own weapons at home.
"Just like we ask the industry to keep good records, we are asking the public to keep good records of their personally-owned firearms."
These numbers did not include firearms stolen from homes or vehicles across the nation. Knight said thefts from the public are on the rise, too.
The ATF investigates lost and stolen guns with the goal of protecting people from violent crime involving those weapons.
Knight said the ATF will continue to work to recover stolen guns, and get them out of the wrong hands. If you have any tips for the ATF, click here for more information on how to submit them.
Meanwhile, he said the nationwide increase in stolen guns and lost guns could mean there's an increased potential for violent crime.
"That indicates there are more guns in illegal commerce. And it's the safety of the public. That's our priority," said Knight. "When these illegal firearms are out there, it's not only law enforcement's responsibility but it's also the public's responsibility to help. We encourage them to contact ATF."