What the Associated Press calls the most expansive federal report in over two decades on guns and crime shows a shrinking turnaround between the time a gun was purchased and when it was recovered from a crime scene, indicating firearms bought legally are more quickly being used in crimes. The report documents a spike in the use of conversion devices that make a semiautomatic gun fire like a machine gun, along with the growing seizure of so-called ghost guns, privately made firearms that are hard to trace. The report was issued as the nation grapples with a rise in violent crime, particularly from guns.
Much of the data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives report hasn’t been widely available before. Its release is aimed at helping police and policy makers reduce gun violence, said Director Steve Dettelbach. “Information is power,” he said. The report shows 54 percent of guns that police recovered in crime scenes in 2021 had been purchased within three years, a double-digit increase since 2019. The quicker turnaround can indicate illegal gun trafficking or a straw purchase — when someone who can legally purchase a gun buys one to sell it to someone who can’t legally possess guns. The increase was driven largely by guns bought less than a year before. The number of new guns overall in the U.S. grew significantly during that time as gun sales shattered records during the coronavirus pandemic. Most guns used in crimes changed hands since their purchase, the report says. It also found an epidemic of stolen guns: more than 1.07 million firearms were reported stolen between 2017 and 2021. Almost all of those, 96 percent, were from private individuals.