Special Report

States With the Worst Gun Trafficking Problem

Gun violence is a growing problem in the United States. Active shooter incidents surged by over 50% in 2021 compared to the previous year, and the share of violent crimes involving firearms climbed by over 30%, according to the FBI. While the right to gun ownership is enshrined in the constitution, keeping guns out of the wrong hands is a persistent challenge – and one that some states appear to be taking more seriously than others. (These are the firearm calibers used the most to commit crimes in the U.S.

Several states, mostly concentrated in the Northeast and along the West Coast, have relatively tight gun restrictions. California, for example, has strong eligibility requirements for prospective gun owners, mandatory waiting periods, universal background checks, and restrictions on certain types of firearms and ammunition. States like Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York have similar laws.

In most of the country, however, such gun control laws do not exist. The resulting patchwork of regulations has helped criminals create a thriving black market for gun trafficking. Each year, thousands of firearms that were purchased in states with virtually no gun control laws end up in the hands of criminals in states with tight firearm restrictions. 

Using firearm tracing data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, 24/7 Wall St. identified the states with the worst gun trafficking problems. States are ranked by the share of firearms traced by the ATF. These guns either have been used or are suspected to have been used to commit a crime and were determined to have come from out of state. 

In each of the 15 states on this list, at least 30% of firearms traced by the ATF in 2021 were originally purchased out of state. Among the top 10 states, anywhere from 41% to 85% of guns linked to a crime were sourced from a different state – and nine of the top 10 also rank as having the strictest gun control laws in the country. (These are the states where gun crimes are surging.)

Out-of-state guns used in a crime often come from a bordering state. Often, however, they also come from a faraway state where virtually anyone can purchase a gun. Georgia, for example, a state with relatively lax gun laws, is among the top three feeder states for six states on this list, even though it does not share a border with any of them. Each of the six states where a large share of guns used in a crime came from Georgia is in the Northeast or Mid Atlantic, along the I-95 corridor, which also cuts through Georgia

Click here to see the states with the worst gun trafficking problem.

Click here to read our detailed methodology.

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