Special Report

Gun Crime Is on the Rise in California

Max Whittaker / Getty Images News via Getty Images

Firearm sales have hit historic highs in the U.S. in recent years, and the ongoing proliferation of firearms may be fueling a rise in gun crime.

When firearms are recovered at a crime scene or taken from a suspect, they are often reported to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives for tracing. In these cases, the ATF assists in criminal investigations by using serial numbers and other markings to determine when and where a firearm was originally purchased — and over the last 12 years, firearm-related offenses have been taking up a growing share of federal resources.

Between 2010 and 2022, the number of guns traced by the ATF surged by 174%, from 145,600 to 399,400, climbing by anywhere from 3% to 18% in a single year. Most homicides in the U.S. are committed with a firearm, and over the same period, the national homicide rate climbed by over 50%.

While not all guns traced by the ATF were used in a crime — and not all firearms used for illicit purposes are traced — federal tracing data offers valuable insight into trends and geographic patterns related to gun violence in the United States.

Mirroring the national trend, gun tracings are up sharply in California. The ATF traced 33,304 seized firearms in the state in 2022, compared to 16,045 in 2010. Still, adjusting for population, gun crime appears less common in California than it is across the U.S. as a whole. In 10 of the last 12 years, the number of firearm tracings for every 100,000 people in the state was below the comparable national rate.

As of 2022, the most recent year of available data, the ATF traced 85 seized firearms for every 100,000 people in the state, the 15th lowest gun-tracing rate among states.

2010: 16,045 firearms traced by the ATF

  • Firearms traced by the ATF in California, 2010: 43.0 per 100,000 people (22nd highest)
  • Firearms traced by the ATF nationwide, 2010: 47.1 per 100,000 people
  • California homicide rate, 2010: 4.8 per 100,000 people (20th highest)
  • U.S. homicide rate, 2010: 4.8 per 100,000 people

2011: 17,285 firearms traced by the ATF

  • Firearms traced by the ATF in California, 2011: 45.9 per 100,000 people (20th highest)
  • Firearms traced by the ATF nationwide, 2011: 47.9 per 100,000 people
  • California homicide rate, 2011: 4.8 per 100,000 people (20th highest)
  • U.S. homicide rate, 2011: 4.7 per 100,000 people

2012: 18,280 firearms traced by the ATF

  • Firearms traced by the ATF in California, 2012: 48.1 per 100,000 people (24th highest)
  • Firearms traced by the ATF nationwide, 2012: 49.8 per 100,000 people
  • California homicide rate, 2012: 5.0 per 100,000 people (18th highest)
  • U.S. homicide rate, 2012: 4.7 per 100,000 people

2013: 19,625 firearms traced by the ATF

  • Firearms traced by the ATF in California, 2013: 51.2 per 100,000 people (22nd highest)
  • Firearms traced by the ATF nationwide, 2013: 52.6 per 100,000 people
  • California homicide rate, 2013: 4.5 per 100,000 people (21st highest)
  • U.S. homicide rate, 2013: 4.5 per 100,000 people

2014: 21,265 firearms traced by the ATF

  • Firearms traced by the ATF in California, 2014: 54.8 per 100,000 people (21st highest)
  • Firearms traced by the ATF nationwide, 2014: 53.4 per 100,000 people
  • California homicide rate, 2014: 4.4 per 100,000 people (24th highest)
  • U.S. homicide rate, 2014: 4.4 per 100,000 people

2015: 23,716 firearms traced by the ATF

  • Firearms traced by the ATF in California, 2015: 60.6 per 100,000 people (21st highest)
  • Firearms traced by the ATF nationwide, 2015: 59.3 per 100,000 people
  • California homicide rate, 2015: 4.8 per 100,000 people (23rd highest)
  • U.S. homicide rate, 2015: 4.9 per 100,000 people

2016: 25,188 firearms traced by the ATF

  • Firearms traced by the ATF in California, 2016: 64.2 per 100,000 people (25th highest)
  • Firearms traced by the ATF nationwide, 2016: 65.4 per 100,000 people
  • California homicide rate, 2016: 4.9 per 100,000 people (25th lowest)
  • U.S. homicide rate, 2016: 5.4 per 100,000 people

2017: 27,051 firearms traced by the ATF

  • Firearms traced by the ATF in California, 2017: 68.4 per 100,000 people (25th highest)
  • Firearms traced by the ATF nationwide, 2017: 73.4 per 100,000 people
  • California homicide rate, 2017: 4.6 per 100,000 people (24th lowest)
  • U.S. homicide rate, 2017: 5.3 per 100,000 people

2018: 27,154 firearms traced by the ATF

  • Firearms traced by the ATF in California, 2018: 68.6 per 100,000 people (23rd lowest)
  • Firearms traced by the ATF nationwide, 2018: 77.9 per 100,000 people
  • California homicide rate, 2018: 4.4 per 100,000 people (25th lowest)
  • U.S. homicide rate, 2018: 5.0 per 100,000 people

2019: 26,922 firearms traced by the ATF

  • Firearms traced by the ATF in California, 2019: 68.1 per 100,000 people (20th lowest)
  • Firearms traced by the ATF nationwide, 2019: 82.0 per 100,000 people
  • California homicide rate, 2019: 4.3 per 100,000 people (24th lowest)
  • U.S. homicide rate, 2019: 5.1 per 100,000 people

2020: 27,536 firearms traced by the ATF

  • Firearms traced by the ATF in California, 2020: 70.0 per 100,000 people (16th lowest)
  • Firearms traced by the ATF nationwide, 2020: 93.9 per 100,000 people
  • California homicide rate, 2020: 5.6 per 100,000 people (24th lowest)
  • U.S. homicide rate, 2020: 6.5 per 100,000 people

2021: 31,609 firearms traced by the ATF

  • Firearms traced by the ATF in California, 2021: 80.6 per 100,000 people (20th lowest)
  • Firearms traced by the ATF nationwide, 2021: 108.9 per 100,000 people
  • California homicide rate, 2021: 4.4 per 100,000 people
  • U.S. homicide rate, 2021: 7.7 per 100,000 people

2022: 33,304 firearms traced by the ATF

  • Firearms traced by the ATF in California, 2022: 85.3 per 100,000 people (15th lowest)
  • Firearms traced by the ATF nationwide, 2022: 119.8 per 100,000 people
  • California homicide rate, 2022: 3.7 per 100,000 people (10th lowest)
  • U.S. homicide rate, 2022: 7.3 per 100,000 people

Year Firearm tracings per 100,000 people in California Firearm tracings per 100,000 people in the US Total firearms traced by the ATF in California Total firearms traced by the ATF in the US
2022 85.3 119.8 33,304 399,397
2021 80.6 108.9 31,609 361,587
2020 70.0 93.9 27,536 306,686
2019 68.1 82.0 26,922 269,250
2018 68.6 77.9 27,154 254,700
2017 68.4 73.4 27,051 239,175
2016 64.2 65.4 25,188 211,384
2015 60.6 59.3 23,716 190,538
2014 54.8 53.4 21,265 170,344
2013 51.2 52.6 19,625 166,426
2012 48.1 49.8 18,280 156,346
2011 45.9 47.9 17,285 149,276
2010 43.0 47.1 16,045 145,604

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