Nearly 1,000 guns were reported lost or stolen from federally licensed gun dealers in Maryland last year, the third-highest number of any state in the country, according to a federal report released this week.
Gun dealers in the state reported 886 lost guns and 98 stolen guns in 2012, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Pennsylvania had the most guns reported stolen or lost from dealers, about 1,500, while Texas had more than 1,200 such thefts or losses.
"I'm trying to think of some explanation as to why Maryland would rank so high on this, other than we've got a bigger problem," said Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.
Webster said the figure is not in line with either Maryland's population or low gun ownership rate.
"It's just such a red flag. There's no reason to not be able to account for your inventory," he said.
Nationwide, more than 190,000 guns were reported lost or stolen by dealers and civilians in 2012, according to the ATF, which examined a central police database and dealer records.
Maryland ranked much lower in the country, 31st, for the number of guns reported lost or stolen by firearm owners — about 1,900 such guns were reported stolen to police, with only about 70 guns reported as lost.
President Barack Obama ordered the ATF to compile the audit annually in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, so there are no previous reports for comparison.
The total number of guns lost or stolen from dealers is likely much higher, the Center for American Progress said in a report also released this week. The think tank, citing an April report from the federal Office of the Inspector General, said the ATF only has the manpower to inspect about 19 percent of gun dealers every year.
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The Maryland General Assembly passed a sweeping gun reform law earlier this year that empowers the state police to inspect gun dealers.
The Center for American Progress used the 2003 case of Valley Gun, a Baltimore gun shop, as one of a dozen "noteworthy examples of gun dealers failing to maintain control of their dangerous inventory." In that case, the center said, the ATF audited the store and found that 422 guns, a quarter of its inventory, were missing, and the store was connected with about 483 guns found at crime scenes. The store has since closed.
Chelsea Parsons, the associate director of crime and firearms policy at the think tank, said she hoped for more investigation into why Maryland and other states had high numbers of missing guns at gun shops.
"The report is a good starting report for ATF and law enforcement to dig deeper, find out why these numbers are so high," she said.
Rifles were the firearm reported lost or stolen most often by dealers, the ATF's report said.