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DNR firearms are not lost

A recent article in The Sun ("Audit faults gun loans," Dec. 12) may have led readers to inaccurately conclude that the Maryland Department of Natural Resources had "lost track" of hundreds of firearms used in its highly effective hunter safety education program. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The article made reference to a recent federal audit of $9 million in federal aid that Maryland's sport fish and wildlife restoration programs receive each year. These audits are conducted periodically to ensure that funding derived from federal excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment as well as state fishing and hunting license revenues are used solely for fish and wildlife management programs.

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Since the agency's hunter safety education program began in 1966, the Natural Resources Police has used a subsidiary inventory system for accounting and tracking these firearms, which are maintained by volunteer instructors. In this case, the auditor declined to recognize the system because the data were not integrated into the department's "official" inventory system. It bears noting that all previous federal audits of the program had found the NRP inventory and control system acceptable, and we are working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to address the audit findings to their satisfaction.

We would like to assure Maryland citizens that there is not now nor has there ever been a public safety risk associated with these firearms, approximately 60 percent of which are non-operational. The agency has never lost track of a single firearm in the program's 45-year history. It is aware of the location and possession of each firearm at all times, and it conducts a physical audit and inspection of every firearm at least once each year.

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While our written response to the audit was clearly not as comprehensive as it should have been, staff presented detailed data and refutations — including physical inventories — on these audit findings in a series of meetings and site visits with the auditors, which occurred over a 9-month period.

Not only do we take every audit of our agency very seriously, we welcome the opportunity for such external assessments that can ultimately help us improve our internal processes.

John R. Griffin, Annapolis

Col. George F. Johnson IV, Annapolis

The writers are, respectively, secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and superintendent of the Maryland Natural Resources Police.

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