The four branches of the military, combined, have an estimated 4.5 million firearms, according to the nonprofit independent Small Arms Survey. Of that number, approximately 1,900 vanished from military inventories between 2010 and 2019. That figure compiled in a recent Associated Press study of military inventory records and internal memos. It’s a small percentage of the total number, but as Albany County, NY, district attorney David Soares states, “One gun creates a ton of devastation,” when a missing military weapon turns up on the streets.
Some of the missing weapons have been linked to violent crimes across the U.S., from California to New York, Kentucky to the Carolinas. It’s an uncomfortable irony that missing military firearms ever become a problem for local law enforcement. And it doesn’t have to be this way. There are technology solutions: secure weapons lockers, and RFID.
Smart weapons lockers help prevent surreptitious thefts by outsiders. The AP report detailed how an unlocked door allowed intruders to steal six automatic weapons from a National Guard armory. In another case, surveillance cameras failed to record firearms thieves at a Marine base. Weapons lockers’ biometric and electronic locks limit access to the stored firearms. Only authorized personnel have access, and smart technology automatically records who accessed what, and when.
The secure chain of custody begins with weapons lockers, but it doesn’t stop there. RFID technology expands the chain of custody from the initial delivery of a firearm, into the military weapons inventory, and out into the field.
RFID excels as an asset management tool. For example, an RFID-managed armory can operate like this:
- The manufacturer tags each weapon per the military branch’s data specifications.
- When a shipment of RFID-tagged guns arrives at the armory, a single scan with an RFID reader captures the identifying data of every item in the entire shipment. The shipment is checked in a matter of seconds, with no manual errors.
- Each gun is placed in a smart locker; its assigned locker number is recorded on the RFID inventory.
- Using a hand-held RFID reader, a single scan of the weapons locker room reads every weapon in the room and updates the inventory each day.
- When a gun is checked out or returned, the armory records the soldier’s RFID card and the gun’s RFID tag; the soldier’s ID and the weapon’s ID are automatically linked – no manual errors.
The RFID asset management system can be configured to generate alerts if inventories are not completed, or if weapons are not returned as expected, need routine maintenance, or are due for replacement.
Weapons lockers and RFID asset management remove the human-error factor from armory management. They improve security, accountability, and efficiency. Most important, they reduce the chances that military firearms will find their way the hands of bad actors.
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