Criminal Defense

Where Do The Guns Used in Violent Crime Come From?

April 27, 2023 by Anastasiia Ponomarova in Criminal Defense  
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Where Do Firearms Used in Crimes Originate?

Mass shootings frequently make headlines throughout the United States with alarming and persistent frequency. However, what often goes unnoticed in the reporting of current events are the isolated incidents involving gun violence that pervade the societal structure – with nearly half a million violent offenses involving firearms occurring yearly, as the National Institute of Justice reports.

Every year in the United States, slightly fewer than 40,000 fatalities result from firearm-related incidents noted on average. Where do criminals typically purchase their weapons? And do most criminals use illegal means to acquire their weapons of choice?

Ask a police officer out on the streets how criminals get their hands on guns, and you’ll likely get the direct, unofficial response, “They steal them.” The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) agent, struggling to deal with this widespread misunderstanding, claims this expression of shared experience is incorrect.

A significant portion of guns used for illegal purposes is not taken from individual gun owners and their vehicles, claims Jay Wachtel, a skilled expert in analyzing firearm usage in relation to criminal incidents. According to Wachtel’s statement, only 10 to 15 percent of the firearms used in illegal activity are stolen. The delay in obtaining a weapon through theft and subsequent transfer to a criminal is typically problematic due to the urgency with which people frequently seek firearms. According to AFT, criminals often utilize the most common routes to obtain guns, like through:

  • Straw Purchase
  • Legally Licenced Stores
  • Unlicensed dealers/ black markets
  • Theft is at the bottom of the list

1. Straw Purchase

There are various ways for unsuitable people to obtain firearms, with gun theft incidents being the least significant. Wachtel claims that using illegal straw purchase transactions is a common strategy criminals use to acquire firearms. The phrase “straw purchase” refers to a scenario in which a person legally prohibited from possessing a gun or who prefers to remain anonymous designates a third party to purchase the firearm. According to the results of the 1994 study by the ATF on “Sources of Crime Guns in Southern California,” instances of straw purchases were observed to occur in an overtly suggestive manner. It is usually characterized by the entrance of two people into a firearms store where one chooses a gun and the other uses personal identification to complete the transaction and foot the bill. Alternatively, a group of children can enter a store, and an accompanying adult can make purchases on their behalf. These two activities are both illegal.

2. Legally Licenced Stores

Many reports agree with what Wachtel found – that licensed gun sellers (Federal Firearms Licensees) engaging in illegal activities is a vast way that guns used in crimes end up on the streets. The second-most frequent way criminals get guns illegally is by buying them from gun dealers who have permission to sell guns but are untrustworthy and operate from their own homes or businesses. This happens more often than when someone steals a gun from a regular person. Gun traffickers want to get guns just like how bank robbers target banks. That’s why they focus on FFLs. FFLs are a big reason why illegal guns end up on the streets through traffickers who sell them in the end.

According to the report, almost 28% of guns sold legally from certain stores are used in crimes within two years of the sale. This suggests that the people selling or buying firearms may have been involved in illegal actions. The report says that guns don’t only get sold without permission. They can also be lost, missing, or taken from licensed gun sellers.

3. Unlicensed Dealers/ Black Market

People not licensed to sell guns legally sell them on the streets or the black market. People who sell firearms on the streets without a license also get them illegally, like buying from licensed dealers, pretending to be someone else to buy guns for other people, or stealing them. This makes it so there are a lot of guns available for crimes. Criminals get guns from people they know, sometimes by selling, stealing, or getting them as presents.

Individuals who are not supposed to have guns prefer to get them from illegal markets. Research shows that people who have been arrested believe that getting a gun illegally is easy, even though many firearms have been taken away during their arrest. As claimed in the report, more than half of the arrested people can quickly get guns if they need to without following the gun laws.

4. Theft

A small percentage of the guns are stolen firearms.

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