Special Report

Where Trafficked Guns Used to Commit Crimes Come From

In the United States, gun ownership is a constitutional right, one that nearly a third of all American adults choose to exercise. But while most of the nearly 400 million civilian-owned firearms in the U.S. belong to law-abiding citizens, some inevitably end up in the wrong hands. 

Many states, primarily in the Northeast and along the West Coast, have strict gun regulations designed, in part, to make it harder for criminals to obtain a firearm. Gun control laws in these places are by no means perfect, and in many cases, legally-purchased firearms end up being used to commit crimes. It is also common for criminals to circumvent legal channels to gun ownership all together and trade guns in the black market. (These are the firearm calibers used the most to commit crimes in the U.S.

Every year, thousands of firearms are purchased in places with relatively lax gun restrictions, moved across state borders and redistributed before they ultimately wind up at a crime scene. According to the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, more than 97,000 firearms that were linked to crimes in 2021 were sourced out of state. The ATF identified the specific origin of about 80,000 of those guns – and the data shows that a handful of states are disproportionately driving America’s gun trafficking problem.  

Using 2021 ATF gun tracing data, 24/7 Wall St. identified the states where the most trafficked guns come from. States are ranked by the number of firearms purchased there that were traced by the ATF and linked to crimes in other states. 

The top 16 feeder states on this list account for nearly 77% of all guns that were linked to an out-of-state crime scene in 2021. With only a few exceptions, the states on this list have relatively limited control laws in place. 

Often, guns purchased in these places end up being used in a crime in a bordering state, though this is not always the case. New York, for example, has some of the tightest gun control policies in the country – and it also ranks among the top three destinations for guns purchased from six states on this list, none of which share a border with it. California, a state recognized for its stringent gun control laws, is also among the top three destinations for firearms from six states on this list, and only two of them are bordering it. (Here is a look at the states where gun crimes are surging.)

Click here to see where trafficked guns used to commit crimes come from.

Click here to see our detailed methodology.

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