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Record Number of 'Crime Guns' Were Recently Purchased, ATF Says

Murder rose at an unprecedented rate in the U.S. in 2020 and likely rose again in 2021, but concrete answers about why this happened have been hard to come by. New data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) provides clues regarding the potential role of newly purchased firearms, writes crime analyst Jeff Asher in The Guardian. The firearms tracing data show that law enforcement agencies across the U.S. in 2021 recovered and traced back far more guns than they did in previous years, and that a record number of those guns were recently purchased.

The ATF’s annual firearms tracing data report calculates the number of guns recovered by law enforcement agencies and traced by ATF to their original retail seller. These guns are generally referred to as “crime guns” though some may not have been recovered during the commission of a crime. Guns recovered through buybacks, firearms voluntarily turned into law enforcement and crimes where a firearm was not physically present are not included. The number of recovered and traced guns has risen each year since 2010, the first year of available data. That trend accelerated in both 2020 and 2021, with more than 360,000 recovered and traced in 2021, up from fewer than 150,000 in 2010. ATF reports that the share of crime guns recovered within two years of purchase jumped from 28 percent on average between 2010 and 2019 to 47 percent in 2021. The share of guns that were recovered within one year of purchase rose from 17 percent between 2010 and 2019 to 29 percent in 2020 and 32 percent in 2021. Asher says the numbers may somewhat reflect heightened enforcement in response to more shootings or improved reporting by law enforcement.


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