Study: 79 percent of the guns used by criminals are not theirs

A study published this month finds 4 out of 5 guns recovered in crime are not owned by the perpetrator, who often obtained them through theft or trafficking.

The peer-reviewed study, “Gaps continue in firearm surveillance: Evidence from a large U.S. City Bureau of Police,” was complied by a team of researchers led by Dr. Anthony Fabio of the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, and published in this month’s Social Medicine.

Fabio worked with information provided by the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police to analyze 762 cases in which a total of 893 guns were recovered from suspects by the Bureau’s Firearm Tracking Unit in 2008. In a 33 percent, or about one-third of the cases, the firearm was claimed by the original owner to be stolen– though just over half reported the incident before police approached them about the recovered firearm.

Another 44 percent of the cases found that the gun was not legally owned by the suspect but by someone else, in some cases purchased through straw buyers.

This led the study to conclude, “Given that 79% of perpetrators are connected to firearms for which they are not the  legal owner, it is highly likely that a significant amount of theft or trafficking is the source of perpetrators’ firearms.”

In fact, Fabio’s team found that in just 14 percent of the cases reviewed, the perpetrator was legally carrying their own firearm.

Of the guns stolen for which a place was known, about 55 percent were taken from homes while another 18 percent from vehicles. In just 9 percent of the cases in which a gun was stolen was the weapon believed to be locked or secured.

Contrasting the demographics of legal gun owners to perpetrators, the study found that the guns were most often stolen from white makes and most often recovered from black males.

“All guns start out as legal guns,” Fabio told the Washington Post. But a “huge number of them” move into illegal hands. “As a public-health person, I’d like to be able to figure out that path.”

Roughly 15,000 guns were lost by or stolen from federal firearms licensed dealers during the calendar year 2015, according to stats released by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a decrease from previous years.  It is not known how many are stolen from private citizens and organizations annually though a 2012 Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics study found an estimated average of 232,400 firearms stolen each year between 2005 and 2010.

In many cases gun theft is treated lightly. Earlier this year a Minnesota man who used a blowtorch to steal 85 guns worth an estimated $100,000 was sentenced to probation while in California since 2014 gun theft or possession of stolen property valued at less than $950 is a misdemeanor, incurring the wrath of a citation if caught.