A new investigation has revealed that criminals stole at least 237,000 firearms across the United States during 2016.
The joint inquiry by The Trace and NBC News noted that this figure is likely an underestimation because not all gun thefts are reported.
Examining figures over the longer term provided by the National Crime Information Center, the study estimated that 2 million firearms have gone missing over the past 10 years.
Police have recovered some 23,000 firearms since 2010, and most of them were linked to criminal activity. Crimes committed included more than 1,500 car jacking instances, armed robberies, and sexual assaults.
"The impact of gun theft is quite clear," Frank Occhipinti of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said, according to The Trace. "It is devastating our communities."
The Trace pointed out that while thefts from gun stores gets most of the media attention, police records showed firearms are regularly stolen from closets, coffee tables, and unlocked cars.
"It comes down to basic human responsibility," added Occhipinti. "If a gun owner doesn't do what he's supposed to be doing, that obviously makes our job a lot harder."
In one case, a group of teenagers stole a gun from a car's glove compartment, and then played a video game to decide who would get to keep it.
One month later, the 18-year-old who gained possession of the gun used it to shoot and kill a 75-year-old woman.
In another incident, an Arizona couple left four shot guns and two handguns in their bedroom, even though they owned a gun safe in the garage. When they returned home, they noticed thieves had entered the house and taken all of the weapons. One of the shotguns was found eight months later on the floor of a car after a police chase. Armed robbers had used the weapon to hold up a gas station.
The Trace pointed out that many of the cases it investigated involved people possessing guns who are not permitted to do so under federal law, such as felons or juveniles.
In two-thirds of the 80 cities examined in the investigation, gun thefts rose significantly between 2010 and 2015.
The findings come as discussions are ongoing in Congress about strengthening the federal background check system for purchasing firearms. The measure was introduced by Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy and has been endorsed by some Republicans, including Sen. Dean Heller and Sen. John Cornyn, The Atlantic reported.
But as the Trace/NBC study reveals, such legislation would do nothing to prevent a large number of people from obtaining guns by stealing them.