In upstate New York, the 18-year-old suspect in the Buffalo shooting a few months ago walked into Vintage Firearms in Endicott asleep, passed an immediate background check without a problem, and purchased a used Bushmaster XM-15 semi-automatic rifle, a copy of the ubiquitous AR-15 used in many other mass shootings. Fact: Other common agreements include sharing firearms and possession of firearms for others. 11 Regional studies have shown that a higher proportion of criminals did not possess a legal weapon when they committed their crimes. “If you look at the highest standards for legal gun ownership, it`s more like 65 percent,” Webster said. Fact: Another city-wide study, 10 in Pittsburgh, showed that 80% of people who illegally carried firearms were not allowed to own firearms and that at least 30% of firearms were stolen. Dr. Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, was part of a team that used the data to estimate the number of illegally owned firearms. In a straw purchase, for example, someone buys a gun on behalf of someone else – either because the real buyer cannot legally possess a firearm or because they do not want the gun traced. Buying straw is illegal under federal law, but it can be hard to spot because it`s legal to buy a gun as a legitimate gift to someone else — just like selling a gun you own as long as you`re not “in business” in the gun trade.
If a weapon is used in a crime, local law enforcement agencies can submit it to the ATF for traceability. The office then uses the unique serial number of the weapon to trace back to the original dealer, who must keep records of each sale for at least 20 years. In 2019, the average time from first purchase of a firearm to tracing by ATF — a measure the bureau calls “time to crime” — was 8.29 years. But this metric comes with a major caveat. Because the ATF only goes back to the first retail sale, it can`t tell if someone bought a used gun from a pawnshop and then used it in a crime the next day. The same applies to private sales and traded weapons. Any search beyond the first sale is the responsibility of local law enforcement. In other words, the time to crime measure is limited in what it says about the origin of firearms used for criminal purposes. In August, police in Pennsylvania and New Jersey arrested three men they said were smuggling untraceable weapons across state borders. New data analyzed by the ABC I team answers the question of where all the weapons that arrive in Chicago come from. Less than half of all guns used in crimes in Illinois came from Illinois.
Fact: The FBI concluded in a study that no firearms purchased at gun shows were used to kill police officers. “Contrary to media myth, none of the guns in the study came from gun shows.” 42 This does not mean, however, that inter-state trafficking in human beings is not a problem with criminal weapons. In New York City, for example, more than twice as many guns involved in crime came from the Southern states as from the state, following a route known as the “iron pipeline.” Federal agencies have not published research similar to Webster on illegal gun crimes. His study was the only analysis of federal data we could find, and the experts were not aware of any other. According to experts, guns are also increasingly appearing at crime scenes — including at least two mass shootings and a school shooting in California. The ATF is finalizing new federal regulations that would change the definition of a “firearm” under federal law, which could make it much more difficult to manufacture a weapon that cannot be found. But a federal appeals court this year also eased restrictions on digital plans for 3D-printed guns, which could make ghost guns more accessible. The anti-Semitic extremist who killed 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in 2018 also legally bought the weapon he used.
While Gagliardi was special commissioner of the ATF division in New York, many of the guns he saw came from southern states where gun laws were less restrictive, he said. Fact: Less than 5 percent of the guns prosecuted in California, many of which were not crime weapons, came from neighboring Nevada and Arizona. 32 Unfinished firearm parts that do not meet the legal definition of a firearm are not subject to federal legislation that allows individuals who may lawfully possess firearms to manufacture such firearms that cannot be found for their personal use. But New Jersey is one of the few states that requires privately manufactured firearms to be registered. These men now face multiple charges for violating this law. “Basically, for laymen, it`s the DNA of the shells versus other shell casings to see if there`s a similarity or comparison between one crime scene and another. So if you use a gun in a scene in another city, compared to a scene in South Bend or Aurora, it will compare and show that the same gun was used at both crime scenes,” Hoffman said. Fact: Only 0.5% of the reported tracks were for an original purchase three years or less prior to the creation of the track. 65 For example, 99.5% of retail sales had left their control long before the weapon was found (and many traces do not involve criminal weapons). Fact: The “time to crime” of a firearm is approximately 11 years, making it rare for a newly purchased firearm to be used to commit a crime. 56 From 1966 to 2019, 77 percent of mass shooters obtained the guns they used in their crimes through legal purchases, according to a comprehensive survey of law enforcement data, academic articles and news stories compiled by the National Institute of Justice, the research wing of the Department of Justice.
No expert who spoke to FiveThirtyEight gave a figure on the different ways the guns ended up on the streets, but they did give a breakdown of the main categories. Two of the biggest are straw purchases and theft – although ghost guns, the aftermarket, and loopholes in the background check system also contribute to the problem. Finally, problems with the firearms background check system can sometimes lead individuals who cannot legally possess a firearm to purchase one from a licensed dealer. It is impossible to know how often this happens each year because the FBI keeps records of gun background checks. But there have been several high-profile shootings where the shooter bought his gun because the background check system failed, including the 2017 church shooting in Texas, the 2015 church shooting in South Carolina, and the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech. Fact: 0.7% of the weapons seized in Detroit in 1991-92 were machine guns. 64 The 21-year-old man who murdered more than 20 people at an El Paso Walmart in 2019 targeted Latinos and supported many of the same racist theories as Mr. Gendron. He ordered his AK-47 clone online from Romania and then picked up the gun and ammunition from a gun store in Dallas after passing the required background checks. MSNBC host Joe Scarborough said in 2015 that a very small proportion of crimes were committed by legal gun owners. PolitiFact rated this claim as half true. An analysis of I-Team data found that less than half of all guns used in Illinois crimes came from Illinois.
Fact: Gun abuse is highly centralized in large metropolitan areas, in poor neighbourhoods (usually infested with street gangs) and therefore among young Black men. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh teamed up with the Pittsburgh Police Department in 2016 to examine nearly 900 guns found at crime scenes in 2008. They found that criminals associated with these guns did not legally possess them 80% of the time. Fact: In Miami in 1980, where drugs were being eaten away, less than 1% of all gun murders were machine guns. 62 “The reality right now in this country is that anyone who wants to harm themselves or someone else can easily acquire the means to do so — legally,” said Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was killed in the 2018 shooting in Parkland, Florida. “I think it`s safe to say that a small percentage of criminal robberies and robberies are committed with guns acquired through legal purchase in a gun store,” Cook said in 2015. “When you start looking at them, you see that the same person has stolen multiple guns in the last couple of years, and then it gets a little suspicious and we start looking at it a little bit closer,” Vanore said. And many defendants accused of these crimes, like the suspect in the Buffalo shooting, view their murders as a public achievement, leading them to secretly plan their attacks until they act, hoping to maximize the attention given to them. This makes them harder to spot, even in a state with relatively strict gun laws like New York. Fact: A survey of the top 100 police services for calendar year 2019 found that no more than 1.3% of crimes were DIY weapons (when runaway agencies were removed) and possibly 2% were fugitive agencies. Forty percent of state prison inmates admitted to illegally acquiring the weapon on the black market, from a drug dealer, or through theft.
Because buying straw is so hard to detect, law enforcement often doesn`t find out until a weapon has been used in a violent crime, according to Chittum. “Straws inherently don`t have a criminal past or a serious criminal past — at least not a criminal past that would prohibit them [from legally owning a gun],” he said. Fact: The BATF reports that the average age of a prosecuted firearm is 11 years 31 years, meaning that most guns transported from state to state were transported when the rightful owners moved. About 48 percent of state prison inmates surveyed said they received the weapon they used from a family member, friend, gun store, pawnshop, flea market, or gun show. Most states only require a background check if the purchase is at a gun store, according to the Giffords Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Data from ATF Trace shows that the top five states where guns found in Illinois were originally purchased are Illinois (49.8%), Indiana (16.7%), Missouri (5.4%), Wisconsin (3.9%) and Kentucky (2.6%).