First Sweeping Federal Gun Crime Report in 20 Years Recently Released

The most extensive federal report in more than two decades on crime and guns shows a shrinking reversal between when a gun was purchased and when it was recovered at a crime scene, including illegally purchased firearms, which are being used more rapidly in crimes around the country.

The report also documents a sharp increase in the use of conversion devices that make semi-automatic gunfire similar to a machine gun and a growing seizure of ghost guns, firearms made privately that are not easy to trace.

A large amount of data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives report has not been widely made public before, and its release is meant to help policymakers and police to reduce gun violence, according to Director Steve Dettelbach. “Information is power.”

The report demonstrates that 54% of guns that police recovered from crime scenes in 2021 had been purchased within three years, an increase of double digits since 2019. The faster turnaround could indicate illegal gun trafficking or what is referred to as a ‘straw purchase’ — when someone who can legally purchase a gun buys guns bought less than a year before, read the report. 

The number of new guns in the U.S. grew significantly as gun sales broke records during the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, an epidemic of stolen guns, including over 1.07 million firearms, were reported stolen between 2017 and 2021. Almost all of those, 96%, came from private individuals. The majority of guns used in crimes exchanged hands since their purchase, according to the report. 

In the meantime, the report documents more than a five-fold increase in the number of devices that convert semi-automatic weapons into an illicit, fully automatic ones. Between 2012 and 2016, the ATF confiscated 814; however, that number jumped to 5,414 during the five years documented in the report.

A conversion device was most recently used in a mass shooting that left six individuals dead and 12 wounded in April last year in Sacramento in what officers described as a shootout between rival gangs. 

Report shows rise in ‘ghost guns’

The report also documents the rise of ‘ghost guns,’ privately made firearms that don’t have serial numbers and have progressively been turning up at crime scenes across the country. 

The ATF has traced over 19,000 firearms that were privately made in 2021, more than double the year before. The jump is partially a result of the agency encouraging police to send weapons in so they can be traced. However, they typically haven’t provided as much information as regular firearms. Weapons have typical ballistics and other characteristics that can be useful to investigators.

The report follows a request by Attorney General Merrick Garland to the ATF that they produce the first encompassing study of criminal gun trafficking in over 20 years.