(WASHINGTON) -- More than 62,000 guns disappeared from U.S. firearm dealers' inventories in the past three years without any record of being sold, according to a report by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF.
The estimate means, on average, that dealers "lost" 56 firearms a day between 2008 and 2010.
In many cases, the weapons were likely stolen or sold under the table or on the black market, circumventing established registration procedures and background checks, experts said. Without a record of a purchase, the weapons are considered hard to trace.
"No wonder it's so easy for gang members and dangerous people to get guns," said Paul Helmke, president and CEO of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a group favoring stricter gun control. "It's obvious these folks aren't losing inventory -- they're selling it under the table or out the back door, feeding the criminal market."
Helmke said the numbers, first publicized by the Brady Center Wednesday after appearing in a public ATF slideshow presentation at a Las Vegas trade show last week, likely understate the extent of the problem.
The ATF data are based on spot compliance inspections of 20 percent of the more than 60,000 retail gun dealers in the U.S.
The ATF, which has approximately 600 inspectors, conducted 10,500 inspections in 2010. Following those inventories, dealers could not account for more than 21,000 guns.
Dealers who improperly complete licensing forms or fail to report multiple handgun sales, among other violations, could face fines or have their retail licenses revoked. Sixty-seven dealers were shut down last year, according to the data.
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