100% Inventory Underway

weaponsarmorym9m4m16racksgunrackgsansnweaponcabinetarmymilitarygunscabinetsThe other day, we came up short a gun for a photo shoot. Whaaa? Well, it’s past time to tidy up around here. (OTR dropped by recently, and threatened to report the Manor in general, and the office in particular, to one of those TV Hoarder shows). There’s a fine line between a collector and a hoarder, isn’t there? We’re determined to stay on the non-bat-guano-crazy side of the line and not be like the crazy cat ladies where they find mummified cat carcasses among the piles of old gun magazines and rusty toasters.

For all that we preach physical security, we’d gotten lax. The light in the main safe went out, and we didn’t fix it. (Failure one). We took guns out for photo ops and they sat around the office, library or even the kitchen for days before being returned. (Failure two). We used various non-standard bags and boxes to move guns around, and didn’t always remove the guns when they got more-or-less to destination (that’s failure three). We had more guns than practical safe storage for them (failure four) and occasionally hosted guest guns that were commingled with our own guns (failure five). We had guns that were not logged into our database (and we’re up to six, and counting).

Most of all, we were casual about putting down books or other stuff on top of guns. So we might well have a gun on a desk, then five books in three languages, then a bank statement that came in and a few press releases from manufacturers. And where was that gun again?

Now, as a private owner of firearms, you have relatively few legal regulations about how you store them, unless you live in some lawless hellhole like North Korea or Massachusetts. Manufacturers and FFLs have more regulations, and those regs can act as a guide to best practices for the private gun owner or other non-licensee who has more than one pistol and a pair of hunting guns. The ATF publishes guidance on inventory control and booking, and licensees that follow it have a lot fewer troubles with an Industry Operations Inspector’s visit that licensees that think they know it all. So the ATF way can guide you.

So can the way the military keeps track of guns. Unlike the Federal criminal investigative agencies that lose scores of guns every year, the services seldom lose a firearm outside of combat; and when they do, it’s usually not lost for very long. (Anyone remember the agency that lost an M4 and a couple of handguns — and never got the M4 back, or made a case against the thief or the criminals caught in possession? It wasn’t the military).

Here are some suggested Best Practices, and we’d welcome discussion in the comments, based mostly not on the right way or the wrong way, but the Army Way:

  • Have an inventory. This seems trivial, but a shocking number of people do not. Our local police chief estimated that in only one in ten residential burglaries that had firearms taken, could the owner produce a list of the firearms by serial number for NCIC entry. This not only prevents the owner from recovering his firearm, but also prevents police from prosecuting criminals who receive the stolen firearms. Very often a stolen firearm is sold on the streets, but they may also be pawned, and ethical pawnbrokers welcome stolen firearms alerts from the cops.
  • Make the inventory easy to use. The more arcane and complicated it is, the more likely it will get neglected and not be 100% complete when you need to broach the subject with the police or insurers. Simplicity is your friend: Manufacturer, importer, model, year, caliber, serial number, other significant markings and a photo are optimal, but make/model, caliber, serial will do in a pinch. (The Army uses NSN, SN, and a couple-word description, plus the line number of the item on the unit’s Modified Table of Organization & Equipment [MTOE] or Table of Distribution and Allowances [TDA]; that’s all that’s in the inventory dump).
  • Have enough storage. This is commonly violated by citizen gun-owners because it’s more fun to buy guns than buy safes. What do you do with overflow? A Job Box bolted to a basement floor or wall and secured with good padlocks is a $300 solution, until you can get that $1000 safe.
  • Tag in, tag out. If the gun is out, hang a tag in its place indicating who has it or where it is (the Army does this with a Weapons Card. There are many versions: here’s one as a .pdf that you can print, four to a page, duplex. In Army use they’re generally laminated).
  • Limit “Withdrawals” The kind of limitations include requiring a need to remove, removing a limited number at a time per user, and a limited duration.
  • Keep Storage Locked. Check it daily, a great time is when you walk your perimeter to ensure doors and windows are closed and locked before bed.
  • Store Magazines and Ammo separately, but also locked. See the Job Box mentioned above.
  • Maintain climate control. In our normally damp, cool basement, we do this with a room dehumidifier that keeps the basement ≤45% humidity, and a rechargable dehumidifier insider each safe. Belt and suspenders humidity management.
  • Conduct frequent inspections. The reason for doing this should be self-evident: it’s to ensure that all your other control measures are working effectively. Here you’re looking for condition, primarily (rust is the secondary enemy of firearms, after national socialists) and

Looking at this list of best practices, it’s clear where we came up short. In the end, the missing vz. 24 that we wanted to A-B compare to a vz. 22 turned up — the dealer that sold it to us shipped it in a Smith & Wesson revolver box, and the whole box was still out of the safe. That was a bad turn of affairs, because it was not only out of our control, but also in an packaging irresistible to burglars.

25 thoughts on “100% Inventory Underway

  1. Boat Guy

    Job boxes are GREAT, especially for ammo. Far superior to and not much more expensive than the Stack-On cabinets for those on a budget (it IS much more fun to buy guns than storage containers).
    I’ll plead guilty to “ready-service” mags in safes and in web gear, the latter just hanging on hooks.
    Y’all have more humidity concerns than we do out west.

  2. Ken

    I lost a pistol for a year because I “hid” it one day instead of putting it in the safe when I left. The hell of it is that it was pretty much hidden in plain sight.

  3. Winston Smith

    Tell me again why small time owners need to separate guns and ammo inside their safes. I get it about keeping kids away from loaded weapons, but I tend to keep a loaded mag or 2 for important firearms in my locked safe.

    Now if I had a s-ton of ammo, sure. I wish.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Sure, Winston: fire. A good safe will protect firearms from fire, possibly long enough for the FD to extinguish the fire and your guns to be saved.

      Meanwhile, ammo, if heated hot enough, will burn (it doesn’t really explode. I’ve posted NSSF fire safety videos on the subject). So don’t keep the ammo in with the guns, and don’t use a gun safe as a place to store reams of family papers, either.

      1. Winston Smith

        Thanks, Hognose. Ya know, I never thought about the ammo catching fire.
        But if I get a house fire that hot, I’m dumping all the guns except for sentimental keepers anyway. I just wouldn’t trust them anymore.

        I scan or pic all important papers and keep thumbdrive copies in the safes of trusted family miles from me. Those copies may help until I can get replacements of the paper docs. We live far enough apart that it will literally take at least 2 nukes/explosions to destroy my family pictures/docs/etc.

  4. looserounds.com

    I would make a pretty good training video of “Don’t Do What Shawn Does”. There are guns all over the house, the sage is in a state of constant disorganization with guns being crowded on top of each other way beyond capacity. I have a closet so full of ammo that it threatens to test the integrity of the floor it rests on, Magazines, empty and loaded all over the place in various containers and sitting on top of furniture like night stands and desk tops. Writer’s demo, guns sit everywhere, and its a shame cause they ain’t even mine.. Yes I know, I know. In the spare room with the safe is a small bed for company. In the middle of it lays 500 rounds of 00 buck and the writer’s demo Ithaca M37 combat shotgun. In my bedroom floor, where i have to stop over it every day ,( oh sweet Buddha I have a problem) sits a plate carrier with level 4 plates in it from HighComm security I have to write about.

    I do have an online back up of all guns with detailed photos with serial numbers in case. I admit I’m a disorganized mess. I have not always been this way though I swear!
    When guns are such a huge part of your every day life and job, ( not in the police or military of FFL ) its so easy to fall into chaos. I really need to impose some order and discipline to myself and the problem,

    1. staghounds

      If you have to step over it, pick it up and put it away. Not saying it to be cute, but because “has to step over/around stuff on the floor” is diagnostic for hoarding.

      And putting it away takes less energy than stepping over/around it five times.

      Just started clearing out an in-law’s hoarder house. Don’t let it happen to you!

  5. DSM

    A couple summers ago I upgraded my inventory from a simple nomenclature, type & serial number affair to include photos of both sides and detailed shots of serial numbers and manufacturing marks. Each firearm has its own record sheet that details what, when and who but also maintenance, modifications and round counts. I copied the format for that from the AFTO 105s we maintained on our weapons in the AF.

    I’d add that you should keep a back-up of your inventory in a separate, secured location. A computer or external hard drive is likely to be snagged as well in the event of a theft.

  6. James

    This is actually very importent,you NEED to always know were these items are.I have job box bolted,works great and made stack in racks inside if needed though cased things just fine.I was at friends home once in his loading/gun room I built,had a solid multi lock door/another solid multi lock door to closet with a locked safe.Yep,all 3 unlocked and 2 loaded handguns on safe shelf(fine if locked up),was a eye opener for him and me!

    Tis our job to keep this stuff safe and at least some levels of resistance against theft,do have one item that travels with me regular and has it’s own baby safe in bedroom,luckily all the stories here have a happy ending and good we share em to keep us all on our toes,stay safe!

  7. W. Fleetwood

    You say hoarder like it was a bad thing. I ask you, doesn’t someone have to rescue these lost and abandoned firearms and give them a loving, nurturing home? I mean, otherwise they might fall in with a bad crowd, or even into the hands of a Bubba. Sacrifices must be made.

    I think the title of my video would be “And if you thought Mr. Shawn was bad…..”.

    Wafa Wafa, Wasara Wasara.

  8. KPKo

    How about pictures, of sufficient resolution to show the serial number? My ideal system would have an Excel spreadsheet list of S/N, Make, Model, caliber and any distinguishing characteristics or comments. And then a series of photos.

    Save everything electronically on thumb drive in “go” bag with offsite backups (encryption optional).

    I did this once, 15 years ago, for my more limited collection then. It’s all out of date now and is yet another thing I’ll get around to finishing. Someday.

  9. Jason

    Thanks for the prompt on the inventory sheet. I did have it backed up on a thumb drive but it got corrupted AND copy on PC was lost during a hard drive crash! Storing/saving to multiple places is good, as I have learned! Many in my collection have some great family backstories that my grandfather wrote up and I have added to that as the years have gone by.

  10. redc1c4

    yeah, we need to do a total inventory of what we have…

    except, of course, for the problem that Resident 3vil might decide we “have enough guns” if she actually considers how many we currently own.

    which is a horrifying possibility to think about, as i’m sure you’ll all agree.

  11. Sommerbiwak

    You are all 3%ers! ;-) Hey that would make a great patch. Like those 1% patches that the “outlaw bikers” love so much.

    Hognose, what did you write about third world armies, preventive maintenenace and log books? You all here do not want to be a third world army, now do you?

    I myself am lucky I guess in owning only a dozen firearms. Neatly aranged in the safe. Makes taking inventory easy. ;-)

  12. DaveP.

    I take a photo inventory every few years. Every gun (and my guitars) gets a full-item photo and one showing the serial number with my driver’s license next to it. I usually make two copies onto CD/R’s with one copy going in a sealed envelope into a friend’s gun safe and one stashed in a safe spot. That way, if anything bad happens (fire, break-in, et cetera) I have a record of what I own to show the insurance adjuster and (if there’s a theft) a set of records to hand to the police. I’m actually due for this year’s.

  13. LSWCHP

    Good post Hognose. My guns destails are all in the cop database, but I do need photos for ID in the event of theft. A job for the weekend.

  14. James In Australia

    All mine are locked up and on the Police database, no choice here. Paperwork is in a separate safe.
    Here you are subject to inspections by the local Firearms Officer with little or no notice and you are required to produce what you have listed as being stored at your address (and account for any extras).
    I’ve had three of these inspections, normally after moving house. Every time there were differences between reality and the database, either with serial number typos or guns acquired or disposed of not updated in their database correctly.
    A cheap solution for humidity control is to put a section of plaster board (dry wall?) in your safe and replace it every couple of months. Its surprising how much moisture it’ll soak out of air.

    1. James

      James in Australia,have heard with no definite proof that the cheap chinese drywall that infected the US building process for a few years in U.S. would be a definite no go for anything you care about and use as a dehumidifier.As I said,not positive tis true and not sure if that garbage made it’s way to your neck of the woods,just something to consider,James in U.S.

      1. James In Australia

        Bugger, what did they do mix solid waste in with the gypsum or something?
        I haven’t heard about it here yet, but we did suffer with the substandard Chinese cabling a few years ago.

        1. James

          James,here is a article on it,many on the net,please read the word”corrosive” among other issues: http://homerenovations.about.com/od/drywallsheetrock/a/ChineseDrywall.htm ,was a lot of noise about this with in theory homes needing to be demoed,not sure if because of the drywall but was just used as a excuse,point is,why risk it.You go drywall scrap route hell,buy a new sheet and know it’s origins,James from the US.

          Oh,say Hi to Alice Springs you ever get that way,tis on me “bucket list” of places to visit!

          1. James In Australia

            Thanks for that info , I dont think any made it here though.
            I’ve been in Alice Springs a few times and while it does have some appeal there are much better places in Australia, even in the NT for your bucket list.
            Doing the drive from Adelaide to Darwin without a schedule you’ll not only pass through Alice Springs but a few detours and you’ll see a lot more worthwhile stuff.

  15. staghounds

    Aluminum or steel truck bed tool boxes make good storage boxes- when they weigh 300 pounds or so they are tough to move, and if they are in a small enclosed space they are not so easy to get into if you’ve added good locks. A steel plate across the top with a bar from inside coming through is what I mean, the standard locks are lame.

    (I particularly like the fact that I can store rifles foresight down, stock toe up- keeps oil out of the wood.)

    You just want to slow them down.

    Same with filing cabinets, which are often given away these days.

  16. Nighthawk

    From my first purchase to my most recent – including those I gave as gifts – there’s always been an inventory in the safes (yup, three of them in different locations) and saved on a separate (locked) flash drive. The ammo is also inventoried. I don’t run an arms room, but close to it. DOL

  17. John D

    It’s all the news stories about the “super gun owners” isn’t it?

    Got me thinking about inventory too.


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