Special Report

States With the Most Trafficked Guns

The United States has nearly 121 guns per 100 people, according to the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based research project. That figure may be higher today since it was reported in the organization’s report published in 2018 and was already an increase from 88 guns per 100 people in 2011. (These are states with the most gun purchases per person.)

With so many firearms legally or illegally moving around the country, law enforcement agencies often seek to identify the origin and history of firearms they discover at crime scenes. This job falls to the National Tracing Center of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

To determine the states with the most trafficked guns, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from the ATF Firearms Trace Data – 2020. States were ranked based on the percentage of guns recovered and traced by the ATF whose origins were determined to be in another state (not all firearms are traced). All data came from the ATF except for violent crime rates — number of violent crimes per 100,000 people, which came from the FBI.

Among the 50 U.S. states, between 13% and 89% of firearms collected at crime scenes and were traceable were found to originate in other states, especially in states with stricter gun control laws like New York and California.

New Jersey, which has among the strictest gun regulations in the country and is also the fourth least-violent state, led the nation in the percentage of guns found at crime scenes that were traced to other states. About 4,200 guns found at New Jersey crime scenes that were traced back, originated in other states. And about 10% of those came from neighboring Pennsylvania. (Here are the most violent and peaceful states.)

Indeed, out-of-state guns traced from crime scenes tend to originate in neighboring states. For example, the largest out-of-state supplier of firearms discovered at crime scenes in the four states that border Texas originate in Texas. Arizona is the most common source of out-of-state firearms found in California, while guns originating in California are found at crime scenes in Nevada and Arizona.

Not all firearms are traced and not all traced. Tracing occurs when the ATF or any other U.S. law enforcement agency discovers a firearm at a crime scene and wants to learn where it came from. A gun trace uses serial numbers to identify the wholesale and retail history of the gun back to its original manufacturer or importer. Firearms with illegally removed serial numbers can be traced using forensic expertise and technology, according to the ATF. Unregulated firearms that can be built from kits, known as ghost guns, are untraceable.

Here is where guns are most trafficked across state lines.

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