Thousands of pounds of dynamite and other high explosives disappear each year from magazines, bunkers and work sites nationwide, but government statistics on reported losses, and their recovery, raise more questions than they answer.
Figures compiled by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms show that law enforcement is actually recovering considerably more explosives each year than are being reported stolen or lost.
In 1994, for example, ATF statistics show that nearly 20 tons of dynamite were recovered by police agencies across the country, about 2 tons more than the totals reported missing in 1994, ‘93, ‘92, ‘91 and ‘90 combined.
And in 1995, the last year for which statistics are available, recoveries surpassed losses by more than 2-to-1.
The bureau does not account for the discrepancy, but according to Paul M. Snabel, special agent in charge of the ATF’s San Francisco field division, it is probably a combination of deficiencies in the reporting process.
Some users do not adequately monitor their storage facilities and fail to discover and report losses. “And I suspect a lot of it is the way we gather information and record it,” Snabel said. “Part of the problem is you’ve got a lot of overlap over the years. Some of the recoveries we make have been missing 10 or 15 years.”
Federal law says that anyone with a stock of explosives must report the theft or loss of such materials within 24 hours after the loss is discovered.
And to ensure that the unauthorized removal of explosives is not occurring, it requires that anyone storing explosive materials must inspect the magazines at least every seven days.
But the law is not always sufficient to protect society.
When state, federal and local authorities investigating a series of bombings in Vallejo found 65 sticks of dynamite in the trunk of a car and another 500 pounds in the residence of a suspect, they traced the explosives to a construction firm that was not aware the material was missing.
The owner blamed “sloppy bookkeeping,” Snabel said.
Prosecutions for reporting violations are extremely rare, Snabel said. The penalties are light (a fine of no more than $1,000 and/or a year in jail). And prosecutors find it difficult to prove that the individual had actual knowledge of the theft or loss, an element required for convictions.
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