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Report: Private Security Firm Lost Hundreds Of Guns

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Businesses, private homes and even nuclear power plants depend on private security firms to keep them safe. But USA Today and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that one firm was not living up to its promise.

GINA BARTON: G4S puts itself out there as securing your world. And in some of these cases that we found, that did not happen.

INSKEEP: Reporter Gina Barton was part of a team that examined G4S. The Journal Sentinel found company employees have lost guns that they use to protect those sites. Not all security firms provide guards with guns, but G4S does - thousands of guns under a license from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Six-hundred-forty of those guns have vanished since 2009, and the paper found that some were later used in crimes.

BARTON: There was a guard in Florida who was going on vacation in 2009. And he put the gun in a bag, put it in his closet and left. When he got back, a screen had been cut, and the gun was gone. And the police suspected there must have been a burglary.

A few days after that gun was stolen, a couple of men rolled up on a house, busted through the fence, stabbed a man to death in the backyard. And then they went into this shed that was like a man cave, where a couple of young men were playing video games - and shot both of them to death.

INSKEEP: And the gun that was used in that crime?

BARTON: The gun that was used in that crime was the very same gun that was stolen from the G4S guard's closet. But no one knew it. We were able to put that together 10 years later.

INSKEEP: So G4S should be keeping close watch on their weapons. According to your reporting, they have fallen down on that part of the job hundreds of times. You said the next part is they should be telling ATF when a gun goes missing. Of the 640 cases you found, how often did they tell the ATF?

BARTON: They often did tell the ATF. There were about half a dozen examples over the past 10 years, though, when there were - months, weeks, even years went by before they even noticed guns were missing. So if you don't know a gun is missing, you can't tell the ATF it's missing.

To their credit, they have said that they made some improvements in 2012, and they have more improvements planned now. We talked to them a couple of weeks ago, and they said they're going to be upgrading their computer system yet again so that people at corporate can keep an eye on all these field offices in about (ph) 48 different states. And they said that a lot of the time, the problem is employees are not following the policy. So what they've got to figure out is, how do they make their workers actually do what they're supposed to do?

INSKEEP: What did the ATF - the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms - have to say about your findings?

BARTON: The ATF said that they could not comment on a specific instance. And that's one of the real problems that we have had in kind of breaking through what's going on with ATF because they have issued violations against the company through the years, but they really haven't taken a whole lot of substantive action that we can find. And we don't know why. So we're making some calls to Congress and to those who have oversight of ATF to see if we can get an answer to that question.

INSKEEP: Gina Barton of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

We reached out to G4S for comment, by the way, and the company criticized the investigation by the Journal Sentinel and USA Today as a, quote, "flawed, biased and unbalanced report that lacks context about lost and stolen firearms in the security industry."

(SOUNDBITE OF BAULTA'S "DO WE LIVE TODAY?") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.