Note: The release has been updated to correct a statistic.
The Justice Department today announced the publication of Crime Gun Intelligence and Analysis, the second volume of the National Firearms Commerce and Trafficking Assessment (NFCTA), a four-part, comprehensive examination of commerce in firearms and the diversion of firearms to illegal markets. Volume II presents and analyzes data – much of which has not previously been available – regarding criminal use of firearms that have been diverted from lawful commerce. In April 2021, Attorney General Garland directed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to undertake its first comprehensive study of criminal gun trafficking in over two decades. The first volume of the assessment was published in May of 2022.
“In 2021, I directed ATF to begin work on the first study of criminal gun trafficking in over two decades, and today’s report is yet another historic step in that effort,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “This collection of data will equip our prosecutors and agents – and our law enforcement partners across the country – with unprecedented insights into firearm trafficking networks and dangerous emerging firearm technologies. The Justice Department will continue to use every tool at its disposal to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and save lives.”
“This report will help law enforcement who are on the front lines in the battle against gun violence take illegal firearms off the streets,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco. “The Department of Justice is committed to using cutting-edge crime gun intelligence to reduce violent crime, and this first of its kind data set on emerging threats, specifically the epidemic of stolen firearms and the proliferation of machinegun conversion devices, will have real-world impact in safeguarding our communities.”
“Information is power,” said ATF Director Steven Dettelbach. “This report provides more information on America’s crime guns than has ever been compiled in a single publication. Much of this data, including comprehensive presentation of results from ATF’s National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN), has not previously been available to policymakers and researchers. The comprehensive – and unprecedented – compilation of data in this report is intended to provide strategic insight to law enforcement, policymakers, and researchers as they work to reduce and prevent gun violence. I commend the excellent work by the men and women of ATF involved in producing this important study.”
Volume II presents and analyzes data on crime guns (firearms used in crime) recovered between 2017 and 2021. The analysis reinforces the critical importance of ATF’s unique crime gun tracing authority and highlights the value of data from ATF’s NIBIN program.
One of the key data-points trace data provides is the “time to crime” – the time from the last known retail sale of a firearm to when it is recovered in a crime. Shorter time-to-crime periods are indicators of illegal trafficking and provide crucial intelligence to investigators. Between 2017 and 2021, nearly 25% of traced crime guns – more than 366,000 guns – had a time-to-crime of less than one-year, and 46% had a time-to-crime of three years or less.
Trace data also provides key intelligence on firearm trafficking patterns. The data analysis in Volume II confirms that although most – 72% nationally – traced crime guns are recovered in the same state in which they were acquired from a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL), certain states and cities are targets for firearm traffickers. The cross-jurisdictional nature of this issue – guns purchased in one state and trafficked to another where they’re used in crime – is what led the Attorney General to launch five firearms trafficking strike forces in July 2021.
A significant way firearms are diverted is through theft. The report shows that from 2017 to 2021, there were 1,023,538 firearms stolen from private citizens. These private thefts make up 96% of all firearms reported stolen during that time period.
The data also reveals emerging technological trends. For instance, in the last five years, the number of illegal machine gun conversion devices that law enforcement agencies reported being recovered has increased by an alarming 570%. Conversion devices are used to convert semi-automatic firearms, which are legal, into fully automatic machine guns, which are illegal under the National Firearms Act.
In May 2022, the Department issued Volume I of the NFCTA, Firearms in Commerce, which presents and analyzes data collected by ATF and other federal agencies related to the manufacture, exportation, and importation of firearms.
To produce the NFCTA, the ATF assembled a team of subject experts from ATF, as well as from academic and related fields. Although ATF issues a variety of public and law enforcement reports and bulletins regarding firearm commerce, trafficking, and related issues every year, it has not undertaken a joint academic study on the scale of the NFCTA in more than 20 years.