Federal authorities are investigating after a couple in Houston, Texas who purchased a lot of 100 gun cases from a military surplus website ended up with a surprise inside one of the boxes: fully automatic M16 rifles.
The couple say they assumed they were buying empty rifle cases, and were hoping to turn around flip the products on eBay, but when they were going through the cases after they’d been delivered, a friend cracked open one of the boxes and discovered it was chock full of select-fire rifles.
The couple found at least a dozen fully automatic M16s designed strictly for military use.
Not sure what to do, they reported it to authorities.
Within hours, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives seized the single box and quickly got a search warrant for the storage unit containing 100 more. Experts were shocked by what they found.
“It’s almost surreal to believe something like that happen nowadays. It’s incredible,” said retired Houston police captain and former Marine Greg Fremin. “It’s unbelievable to think weapons of that grade, military-grade weapons, would be shipped in containers would be shipped across state lines and somebody have access to that. It’s pretty shocking,”
Fremin says the military carefully tracks all its weapons, because any misplaced weapons can be extremely dangerous.
“For these boxes to have M16s in them and being shipped to a public destination, not only is it shocking, it’s a federal crime,” he said.
Apparently the military isn’t tracking their weapons as carefully as Fremin says they are, since at least a dozen of them ended up first at a military surplus store before being sent on to unsuspecting customers in Texas.
In fact, the Associated Press ran a pretty big story just last year pointing to the theft of at least 1,900 military firearms from 2010-2019; guns that in many cases the military had no idea were missing until they were found at crime scenes.
Government records covering the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force show pistols, machine guns, shotguns and automatic assault rifles have vanished from armories, supply warehouses, Navy warships, firing ranges and other places where they were used, stored or transported. These weapons of war disappeared because of unlocked doors, sleeping troops, a surveillance system that didn’t record, break-ins and other security lapses that, until now, have not been publicly reported.
… Weapon theft or loss spanned the military’s global footprint, touching installations from coast to coast, as well as overseas. In Afghanistan, someone cut the padlock on an Army container and stole 65 Beretta M9s — the same type of gun recovered in Albany. The theft went undetected for at least two weeks, when empty pistol boxes were discovered in the compound. The weapons were not recovered.
Even elite units are not immune. A former member of a Marines special operations unit was busted with two stolen guns. A Navy SEAL lost his pistol during a fight in a restaurant in Lebanon.
The Pentagon used to share annual updates about stolen weapons with Congress, but the requirement to do so ended years ago and public accountability has slipped. The Army and Air Force, for example, couldn’t readily tell AP how many weapons were lost or stolen from 2010 through 2019. So the AP built its own database, using extensive federal Freedom of Information Act requests to review hundreds of military criminal case files or property loss reports, as well as internal military analysis and data from registries of small arms.
The AP admitted that their totals are almost certainly an undercount, but without ready access to DoD documents it’s impossible to know for certain how many military weapons “disappeared” over the course of the decade.
The big question now is whether or not these particular M16s were “lost” or whether someone was attempting to steal them, though I’d also be interested in knowing if these rifles were ever reported missing, or if their discovery by the couple in Houston came as a surprise to military officials as well. Either way, it’s not a good look for Uncle Sam, and I suspect the Biden administration is going to be less than forthcoming about what the ATF’s investigation ultimately reveals.