Several thousand firearms--16,485 to be exact--have left gun factories in the U.S. without a record of being legally sold over the past two and a half years. That's according to new study (PDF) from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence that did the arithmetic on data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (basically, the federal bureau of everything fun) dating from the beginning of 2009 to the middle of 2011. At that rate, an average of about 18 guns go missing from factories daily.

But this is only looking at the gun manufacturers. An January report from the Brady Center found that about 62,000 guns have gone missing from the inventories of gun dealers. It should be noted, though, that as a gun control advocacy group, the Brady Center is hardly unbiased in the whole gun debate. A gun industry magazine pooh-poohed the report in a statement to CNN: "The Brady spin and implication that some manufacturers, whose names are not mentioned so we can't check the charges, are knowingly selling guns before they are logged into the manufacturer's records is absolutely ridiculous." Nevertheless, the figure of 16,000 guns is probably a lowball estimate, given the limitations of the government's data. The Brady Center explains:

The 16,485 “missing” guns are likely a vast undercount of the total number of guns that left gun manufacturers without recorded sales in the last 30 months.  The missing guns are noted at ATF compliance inspections of gun manufacturers.  Nationwide there are 4,487 licensed gun manufacturers, but because of funding restrictions, ATF conducts compliance inspections each year at only about one-fifth of the nation’s licensed gun dealers and manufacturers. 

The report pins the blame for the unaccounted-for guns on loose federal regulations won by the gun lobby. Of course, today's report plays nicely into one of the pieces in the latest issue of The AtlanticAdam Winkler's article on the hidden history of guns in the U.S.