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I Lost All My Guns in a Boating Accident: The Truth

Have you seen jokes on gun forums or satirical news articles about guns lost in tragic boating accidents…

And wondered, where on Earth it came from?

Boat Accident
Chillin’, waiting to explain to the Coast Guard where my guns went.

The joke itself is a reference to hiding gun ownership from the government, particularly if the government has a registry of guns or record of gun purchases.

But where did the joke originate?

Boating Accident Meme Underwater
So unfortunate…

If you’re looking for an explanation, you’re in luck! And boy, it comes with an interesting story.

Read on to learn the origin of the “I lost all my guns in a boating accident” meme and discover why the gun community loves this meme!

Or celebrate it with one of our favorite shirts…

at Shall Not Comply

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Table of Contents


Where Does the “I Lost All My Guns in a Boating Accident” Meme Come From?

The meme traces back to something that actually happened.

In 2014, thanks to California’s drought conditions, the waterline of Castaic Lake (northwest of Los Angeles) receded 151-feet…revealing things previously hidden underwater.

Castaic Lake in 2014
Castaic Lake in 2014

On the dry lake bed, a local fisherman discovered a backpack. The bag contained a gun and a badge for an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF).

According to the unidentified ATF agent, back in 1992, he and a friend went out on the lake for a day of boating.

Rather than leave their valuables in the soft-top Jeep they were driving, they opted to place everything — including the gun, badge, and some other odds and ends — in the backpack and take it onto the boat.

ATF Gun Castaic Lake
Here it is: the gun that launched a thousand memes!

Unfortunately, while they were out, the boat became swamped. The backpack and its contents washed over the side of the boat, before eventually sinking into the lake.

The ATF declined to comment on what sort of disciplinary action they took against the ATF agent, if any, and whether or not the loss of the gun was reported to local law enforcement.

We do know, however, that the agent was still working for the ATF at the time the backpack was found.

And thus the meme was born.

Boating Accident Meme Bump Stock

What Does the “I Lost All My Guns in a Boating Accident” Meme Mean?

Obviously, gun owners took issue with the apparent lack of consequences facing the ATF agent in question.

This was especially true in states with strict gun laws, like California where the incident happened.

In fact, in California, you’re actually now legally obligated to report lost or stolen firearms. And there’s a record of firearms transfers, so the government essentially has a registry of who owns what guns.

No fun allowed sign
Life in Cali.

Now I’m no lawyer, but if the police came knocking on our doors and we offered up “it was lost in a boating accident” to explain the whereabouts of a firearm that should be in our possession…

I somehow don’t think that would fly.

ATF Boating Accident Assistance Meme

But if it’s good enough for an ATF agent, it should be good enough for the average gun owner, right?

So the meme, in essence, mocks this apparent double standard by pretending that the excuse would work for the average civilian gun owner as well.

Miss the Guns Boating Accident Meme

It’s generally used in the context of hiding the fact that you own guns from the government, even though they have a record of you owning guns.

But you’ll also occasionally see it used in the context of hiding a gun transfer that wasn’t documented in the way the law requires.

It tends to pop up in a lot of discussions surrounding gun laws — particularly those related to confiscation, firearms registration, firearms transfer records, and similar concepts.

Come and Find It Boating Accident


So, in summary, the “I lost my guns in a boating accident” meme was rooted in an actual, real-life event but has since been used to poke fun at gun laws and confiscation threats.

at Shall Not Comply

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Now before I wrap things up, I feel like it’s worth emphasizing that this is a joke. It’s not something that you could legitimately use as a legal defense.

If government representatives do come searching for your firearms (or you legit lose them in any kind of accident), this excuse will not help you! Talk to an actual lawyer about your options.

Madigascar Penguin Joke
It. Was. A. Joke.

Hopefully, now you can appreciate the boating jokes a bit more and maybe even make light of it yourself if the opportunity arises.

What are your thoughts on the meme? Are you still enjoying it? Let us know in the comments below, and maybe drop an example or two of your favorite uses of the meme. And for more gun meme-based content, be sure to take our “What Gun Meme Are You?” Quiz.

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5 Leave a Reply

  • Jukka Talari

    Back in the last days of WWII, the Finns were doubtful if the Russians would honor the peace treaty, so a lot of ammo and weapons were stashed to various locations in preparation for a guerilla warfare in case of occupation, and written of as lost during combat.
    One of the most famous "lost gear" cases involved a Finnish long range recon party (kaukopartio in Finnish), that upon returning to base reported that on their way back §they had lost "X number of Suomi SMG's, all magazines to those and x number of rounds, with some radios and other equipment, in a BOATING ACCIDENT".

    April 29, 2021 5:33 pm
  • gmm

    This "meme" has been around a LOT longer than 2014.

    This is the second article of yours I've seen that has dubious, or flat out wrong information.

    January 1, 2021 9:18 am
  • goawayfarm

    Sorry.....but I've been using that saying since the early 1990s......The memes may have started with the ATF fudd....but the saying has been around a LOT longer.

    December 29, 2020 3:46 pm
    • techs

      Exactly that. This meme has been around longer than "meme"; longer than the internet. Origin to my view is with fears of the FFL sales book. ATF: "Says here you bought this gun. Cough it up." 2A fan: "Sold it. Sorry." Then private transfers are outlawed. ATF: "So where's the gun?" 2A fan: "Lost it. Sorry." (fell out of truck, down the well, lost in woods, out fishin') Then being dumb is outlawed. ATF: "Don't see your lost/stolen report. Give it." 2A fan: "Shhhirt.... Say, did you know I'm a 5A fan now?" Then internet was invented. Then "meme" was invented. Then reality follows fantasy. Only then did new gun folks find a funny old gun joke. We didn't Photoshop back in the day, so the pics are a hoot.

      February 7, 2021 9:28 pm
  • Jim Bob Billy Joe

    If government representatives come searching for your know what to do. FIFY

    December 26, 2020 7:32 pm
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