Special Report

How Many Guns Used To Commit Crimes Are Traced in Every State

Gun violence in America has spiked since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The murder rate increased by a record of nearly 30% nationally in 2020, according to FBI data. In 2021, the gun death rate hit its highest level in nearly three decades, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open.

There have been 43,244 gun-related deaths as of Dec. 23, 2022, a decline from 45,091 murder rate may be declining slightly but the second worst for gun violence in nearly a decade. A strong majority of murders are committed with firearms, FBI data shows. Firearms are also used in other crimes, and often found at crime scenes. (These are the states where gun-related crimes are surging.)

The United States is awash with guns, at over 434 million as of 2020, according to the Firearm Industry Trade Association. Many firearms that are originally purchased legally end up being used in crimes or find their way to the black market. When firearms are found at crime scenes, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives goes through a process to trace the gun’s origin and try to determine who was last in possession of it.

According to the ATF, the first step in tracing a gun is determining the manufacturer and/or importer of the gun, which then leads to the holder of the original Federal Firearms License that sold the gun. From there the ATF finds firearm transaction records to identify the first purchaser and then investigate what that person did with the gun and whether it was still in their possession at the time a crime was committed. The firearm caliber traced the most often in every state is 9mm. It is the firearm caliber used the most to commit crimes in the U.S.

To identify the states where the most guns are traced by the federal government, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed firearm tracing data from the ATF. States are ranked by the number of firearms traced in 2021 for every 100,000 people in the state. We also reviewed data on firearm background checks from the FBI, which are often used as a proxy for gun sales. Background check data is also from 2021. 

The majority of the states with the most firearm tracing are in the Southeast and Southwest. Interestingly, Montana, the state with the highest rate of adults living with a gun in their homes at 66.3%, is 32nd on the list.

Guns that are traced by the ATF are typically those found at crime scenes. These guns have either been used, or are suspected to have been used, to commit a crime. Though it is important to note that not all firearms used in a crime are traced.

Click here to see states where the most guns are traced by the federal government.

Click here to see our detailed methodology.

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