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Guns stolen from the United States Post Office

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- You ship packages and letters, but did you know the U.S. Post Office also has other cargo- guns?

"No, I did not realize that. You can actually ship guns through the Post Office? I would have thought that would be illegal," said postal customer Nelda Finn.

Yes. Just like your regular mail, guns go through the postal system and are handled by the same workers.

Problems come when guns shipped through the mail never reach their destination.

They're stolen, not from a truck in transit, but from the post office itself.

Scott Balfour, an Assistant Special Agent with the U.S. Post Office of Inspector General, talked with us via the internet, confirming gun shipments.

"Guns do go through the mail system. Mailers have to follow all postal regulations to send those guns through the mail, but there is no special handling procedure for guns in the mail system," said Balfour.

That may be the problem.

WREG obtained a federal report that showed just how vulnerable guns shipped via USPS can be and what happened.

In May of 2013, firearms ended up missing from Memphis` Main Post Office on South Third.

The ATF report blocked us from seeing just how many guns thieves stole, but it happened over a months time.

During some of the thefts, the thieves swiped the weapons and shipped the empty firearm box on to its next destination.

The ATF documented 13 Post Office theft cases from February 2013 to May 2013.

They won't say how many guns were stolen in those cases.

If you go back to 2012, there had been a total of 20 theft cases.

Some of the guns are still missing. The ATF couldn't tell us how many.

"We just don't keep statistics on that. We track how employees are arrested or indicted," said Balfour.

While Balfour said there have been very few cases of employees stealing guns, our review of ATF files revealed the name of a Post Office employee, who investigators linked to gun thefts at the Main Post Office in Memphis.

Investigators were told the worker would hide the firearm packages that he came across while he was working and then open them later when he had a chance. Witnesses even said he sold AR-15s and Kel-Tec .380s from his house in South Memphis.

"He was a casual mail handler, part-time non-permanent employee that the postal service brings on during times of heavy mail volume," said Balfour.

Yet, that part-time employee got his hands on guns.

"I am not going to comment about how employees would know what was in any sort of certain parcel. I'd prefer not to discuss that," said Balfour.

It`s a bit disheartening for Operation Safe Community (OSC).

"Stolen guns or guns period play a major role in our violent crime," said Harold Collins, who heads up the OSC group tasked with analyzing crime, finding out how many stolen guns are involved in crimes and from where those guns originate.

"One gun on the street can cause an awful lot of damage to our city. So we are concerned if it is just one gun," said Collins. "Take better care of the storage. Be more watchful and make sure guns are stored properly and secured properly so they are not susceptible to being stolen."

The Postal Service said there are surveillance systems in place to deter theft, and it conducts random searches and drug tests.

It's still a bitter pill to swallow. At a place where you may least expect, firearms are being stolen by people trusted with so much.

That Third Street postal employee caught stealing the guns is currently serving a 30-month prison sentence.