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Arms theft spark concern

By David P. Hamilton

Two incidents of firearms theft from the MIT armory in as many months have led Campus Police to restrict shooting at the pistol and rifle ranges and to review security at the armory.

On April 11, two .22 target pistols were stolen immediately after the first meeting of a pistol physical education class, according to Pat Melaragno, rangemaster and coach of the pistol team. The pistols were new and valued at about $500 apiece, he continued.

The earlier theft, in which a .22 caliber target rifle and an air rifle were taken, took place on March 3 shortly before an intercollegiate shooting tournament. The weapons belonged to the US Military Academy rifle team, and were valued at $1500 and $900 respectively.

For nearly two weeks after the pistol theft, the Campus Police placed a moratorium on weapons practice at the MIT ranges. Pistol classes were permitted to begin shooting again this week, largely because of nearly 60 seniors who need the PE credit in order to graduate.

These classes are operating under some new security procedures. Students must now leave identification when checking out pistols, and two supervisors oversee all shooting to ensure that no pistols leave the range.

Unrestricted shooting is not expected to return until at least next fall, when the Athletic Department will have implemented any necessary security changes in the shooting facilities and procedures. Since the pistol and rifle teams have completed their seasons, as has the MIT Pistol and Rifle Club, the current restrictions "aren't impacting on anyone severely," Melaragno said.

One of the security changes is likely to involve moving the weapons safe out of the ranges and into the rangemaster's office, which will be locked and alarmed. Another proposal would place motion sensors across the firing line in each range. The alarms would be set to trigger corresponding alerts in the Campus Police office if activated.

Outside job suspected

When the pistol theft occurred, Melaragno had stepped into the room immediately outside the range to change a student's schedule. While he was occupied, the thief removed two pistols from the open weapons safe. According to Melaragno, the thief would have had to walk past him with the weapons in order to leave the range, leading Melaragno to suspect that the thief had come as a member of the class.

Despite the circumstances of the theft, Melaragno said he doesn't believe that a MIT student took the weapons. Since registration for PE courses does not require students to show identification, a non-student could have filled out a registration card and attended the first day of the course, he continued.

It is theoretically possible for non-students to attend PE classes, according to Clare Tucker, the senior secretary for the PE program. If a non-student fills out a PE registration card, his name is entered into the PE database as a member of the MIT staff, she said. No comparisons are made with any lists of actual MIT personnel.

Such maneuvers are extremely unlikely, Tucker added.

Campus Police Chief Anne P. Glavin refused to comment on either theft except to confirm that both cases are currently under investigation.