Most guns are held by law-abiding citizens. Still, areas with more guns also often have more gun-related crime. Population size and density are also major factors in the number of gun-related crimes. The bigger the city, the more legal or illegally-obtained guns move around inside them and the more crime is linked to guns. (These are states where gun deaths are increasing fastest.)
The United States leads the world by a very long shot in the number of guns that have proliferated into the civilian population. According to the 2018 Small Arms Survey by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, the U.S. has nearly 400 million civilian-held firearms.
An important metric for comparing the prevalence of guns used in criminal activity is tracing data collected by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. 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. While not all firearms used in crimes are traced, the ATF’s gun-tracing data serves as the most accurate comparison of gun-related crimes across U.S. cities and states.
To identify the three cities in each state where the most guns are linked to crime, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed ATF data. For each state, we identified the three cities or towns in which the ATF traced the most firearms. (Also see, 24 states where gun-related crimes are surging.)
In 2021, New York City, the country’s most populous city, reported 5,150 traced guns among 8.8 million residents, representing half of all gun traces in the state that year. New York state has among the strictest gun control laws in the country.
By comparison, the fourth most-populous city in the country, Houston, reported 11,600 traced guns in 2021 out of a population of 2.3 million. Texas is among the states with the least restrictive gun control laws in the country.
Houston also demonstrates how urban density matters. Though the city’s population accounts for less than 8% of the state’s total population, over 25% of guns traced in Texas were traced in Houston.
Other cities where the most guns are linked to crime are inevitably the largest cities in their respective states. Nine out of the 10 largest cities in the country — home to about 8% of the country’s population — have the highest number of traced guns in their state, including the three largest cities in Texas: Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas. These three cities reported 21,449 traced guns in 2021, compared to the 22,770 traced guns discovered in the country’s top three most populated cities: New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
In less populous states with smaller urban centers, even the largest cities have relatively few guns traced compared to metro areas in more populous states. For example, only 30 guns – the most in the state – were traced in Honolulu, Hawaii’s largest city. This is the case in other states where even the largest cities are relatively small with low population densities such as Vermont, Maine, and Wyoming.
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