The Brady Center against Guns (formerly Handgun Control, Inc.) is out with a new report on the firearms industry, and, as is typical, the authorized journalists of the “mainstream media” are lapping up the Brady swill and regurgitating it back out with no investigation or critical analysis, as if it were written in stone by the Almighty himself.
The fact is that the Brady “report” is actually little more than wild assumptions and unfounded fear mongering based on some raw numbers provided by ATF to members of the firearms industry. What those numbers indicate is that an undisclosed number of unidentified manufacturers have had some problems keeping track of all of the frames and receivers they make, but that there has been marked improvement over the last two years. In all, according to the ATF, some 18,000 serial numbers were unaccounted for during factory inspections over the past two and a half years.
While that seems high to those unfamiliar with large-scale firearms production, it actually represents a remarkably low percentage of firearms produced, and such “lost” guns are almost always a simple matter of paperwork or accounting errors.
While there is occasional pilfering of parts by factory employees, this is extremely rare and is usually quickly detected. The vast majority of these “lost” guns never left the factory; they were frames or receivers that failed some quality control inspection and were recycled. Many of the missing guns simply never existed. Automated equipment stamps serial numbers and generates a record, but sometimes numbers get skipped, or there is a gap in the line resulting in a number being stamped into thin air. If such errors are not immediately detected by an equipment operator, the imaginary gun goes into the system and is later unaccounted for.
There is also the occasional problem of senior executives pulling guns for inspection or to show to a visiting gun-writer and failing to notify the proper record-keeper about it. These guns eventually make it back into the system, but often not until after the poor compliance specialist down on the factory floor has filed the serial number as missing.
When I was a new employee on the factory floor at Ruger Firearms in Prescott, Ariz., I remember making the mistake of throwing a box of flawed pistol frames into a recycling bin (which was already full of other flawed frames – some with serial numbers, some pulled before the serial-numbering station) without first checking off the serial numbers so they could be removed from the inventory list. I volunteered to climb into the bin to try and identify the unknown number of frames, but was told not to worry about it because it happened all the time.
I also recall Bill Ruger Bob Stuttler, and Bill Atkinson wandering down to the manufacturing floor and grabbing a gun or frame to go test-fire it, measure it out, or to show to someone. Occasionally one of those guns would be “tested to destruction” to validate strengths and find weaknesses.
I do recall that we had a case of an employee stealing parts and building guns, which he then was selling to friends. He had only sold a few before word got out and he not only lost his job, he lost his freedom. He avoided a 10-year sentence by helping to recover every gun he had built, but still did a couple of years for his crime.
The Brady Bunch and their willing dupes in the media would have us believe that most of these 18,000 “lost” guns are circulating out amongst the criminal element fomenting crime and destruction. One of their more outrageous suggestions is that many of these guns are stolen before a serial number is affixed – something that has occasionally happened, but which is exceedingly rare because serial numbers are intentionally stamped prior to the frame or receiver completing the machining processes.
This means that there is typically a substantial amount of machining still required before the part is usable. The drawback of stamping serial numbers early in the manufacturing process is that it means more parts rejected after they have been marked, which means more gaps in the serial number chain and more destroyed numbers to keep track of.
The Brady Bunch is excited about the idea of un-serialized frames, because their lawyers were recently successful in helping the family of a murder victim win a $600,000 settlement from Kahr Arms. One of Kahr’s guns, which had been assembled from stolen parts by a former factory worker, was used in the murder. Kahr’s attorney’s advised them to settle after a judge telegraphed that the case was not barred under the Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. The $600k settlement was less costly than the drawn out litigation would be, and potentially far less costly than what a jury might award.
The highly unusual circumstance of the pilfered, pre-serialized frame made the case unique and meant that the settlement caused no harmful precedent – though many gun-rights activists were frustrated with Kahr for making the settlement.
The fact is that firearms manufacturers go to extreme lengths to track every part they make or use in their guns – especially the frames and receivers. Pilfering by employees is extremely rare because the return is low and the risk is high, and such thievery is generally detected very quickly.
In the end, as is usually the case, the Brady Bunch – and their supporters in the media – are just wrong again.