The United States has more firearms than people, and while most guns are held by law-abiding citizens, many end up being used in crimes. The majority of murders are committed using a gun, and handguns were the most common weapon used in robberies in 2021. Guns that are traced by the ATF are typically those found at crime scenes. These guns either have been used, or are suspected to have been used, to commit a crime. It is important to note, however, that not all firearms used in a crime are traced.
To identify the firearm calibers most likely to be used for crime in every state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on firearm tracings from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Specific rifle, handgun, and shotgun calibers and gauges traced by the ATF in 2021 were ranked based on tracings in 2021. 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.
One characteristic of firearms is their caliber, which is the internal diameter of a gun’s barrel. The larger the diameter of the barrel, the larger the bullets that it fires. In turn, larger calibers can be more deadly because of their size and power.
The most common caliber used in crime in every state is the 9-millimeter. The 9mm designation covers a range of barrel sizes that are between 9 and 9.99 mm. For a national ranking of calibers, these are the firearm calibers used most to commit crime in the U.S.
Most other calibers are expressed in inches. For example, .22 caliber gun is a gun with a barrel diameter of around 0.22 inches. The 9mm category covers weapons that have barrel diameters of 0.35 to 0.393 inches. The caliber designation is not always exact and is used to categorize guns with similar barrel sizes.
Most firearms do not go beyond a caliber of .50, and even that can be extremely powerful and a lot to handle. For this reason, handguns usually come in smaller calibers.The 9mm is often associated with handguns but it is also a common caliber for long guns.
According to the ATF, there are three main ways guns flow from legal vendors to the black market: They are stolen from private owners or gun dealers; they are purchased by someone who can legally buy firearms to give to someone who cannot, also known as a straw purchase; or they are bought through what is commonly known as the gun show loophole.
In many states, individual gun owners do not have to initiate a background check when selling to another individual, and may inadvertently sell a firearm to someone who cannot legally possess one. These kinds of sales can happen at gun shows, hence the name, but they also happen outside of these events. (Here is a look at how many guns are stolen in each state.)
Click here to see the firearm calibers most likely to be used for crime in every state.
Click here to read our detailed methodology.
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