2013-07-11 / Local & State

Pa. Leads Among Disappearing Guns From Dealers

By Ford Turner


READING, Pa. (AP) – A formidable series of obstacles stands between wouldbe thieves and Charlie Miller’s guns.

Miller is a gun seller licensed by the federal government. In the Lower Alsace Township building where he conducts business, there are block walls, a locked outer door, a padlocked inner door made of metal bars, a pit bull and Miller, a military veteran who is comfortable handling guns.

“The bigger lure for burglars would be if there was a sign that said it was a gunfree zone,’’ Miller said. “They know the guy who has a gun store is probably armed himself.’’

A new report issued by the federal government underscores the importance of Miller’s insights on gun-business security. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found that more guns were reported lost or stolen by licensed gun dealers in Pennsylvania than in any other state.

In 2012, the number of guns reported lost or stolen by federal firearms licensees - referred to as FFLs - in Pennsylvania was 1,502, or 239 more than the 1,263 reported lost or stolen by FFLs in second-ranked Texas.

Miller, who is 67 and carries out FFL transactions within his wife’s Chris Ziegler Studio art gallery and framing business, said he was surprised by Pennsylvania’s number. He speculated correctly that most of the guns in question were, as he put it, “going out the back door.’’

The report said 1,311 of Pennsylvania’s tally of 1,502 guns were reported as lost, rather than stolen. Those guns are nonetheless a threat, the report said.

“Like stolen firearms, they are most often bought and sold in an unregulated secondary market where law enforcement is unable to trace transactions,’’ the report said.

Reading Police Chief William M. Heim said missing guns are a threat to public safety in the city. Police frequently encounter lost or stolen guns when they serve drug-related search warrants.

The fact that a gun has been “ lost’’ rather than “stolen’’ makes it no less threatening, Heim said.

“That is a pretty serious thing to lose in large numbers,’’ he said.

Exeter Township Police Chief Christopher L. Neidert said that on the infrequent occasions his department encounters a missing gun, it usually turns out to have been taken from a home during a burglary.

Told of the numbers in the ATF report, Neidert said, “ I am wondering where those guns are going if they are ‘lost?’”

The president of the Pennsylvania Association of Firearms Retailers, Joe Keffer, speculated that some portion of Pennsylvania’s lost gun figure might reflect paperwork mistakes, rather than actual missing guns.

“I don’t believe for one moment that the dealers in Pennsylvania don’t protect their inventory at least as well as the dealers in other states,’’ Keffer said.

Years ago, Keffer said, many gun dealers waited for visits from ATF agents to conduct gun-by-gun inventories of their stock. Now, he said, many are conducting regular inventories several times a year.

Keffer said he does physical inventories of the wares at his business, The Sportsman’s Shop in New Holland, Lancaster County, four times a year.

“I know a lot of dealers have changed their practices to do what I am doing,’’ he said.

In 2011, Berks County logged more gun sales than any other county in Pennsylvania. A major factor was the presence of Cabela’s, which opened its only Pennsylvania store in Tilden Township in 2003.

The company has declined to comment on sales there, but several Berks dealers and residents versed in gun sales have said it has sold more than 30,000 guns in a single year.

The store manager referred questions about the new ATF report to Cabela’s corporate headquarters in Nebraska. Attempts to reach representatives there were unsuccessful.

The owner of another prominent area firearms retailer, Gun Traders in Muhlenberg Township, declined to comment.

The ATF report was produced in response to one of the 23 executive actions announced by President Barack Obama on Jan. 16, when he unveiled a sweeping plan to reduce gun violence.

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