“What Percentage Of Crimes Committed With Illegal And Legal Guns”

Someone came by searching for “what percentage of crimes committed with illegal and legal guns.”

Before I answer that, I need to make a couple of points. Well, four points.

First, except for a few guns stolen from package services and dealers that were never sold, legally or otherwise, virtually every gun sold in the United States was legally purchased – by a law abiding citizen.

Second, criminals are businessmen of sorts. They operate under the same constraints any other business is run – but the business is illegal. Every business must keep costs down. Guns are like any other tool to a criminal. They are disposable. As prison surveys have invariably found; the object is to be as well armed as possible for as little money as possible.

Third, if we can find either the percentage of legally or illegally purchased guns used in crime we can subtract that from 100 and obtain the other percentage.

And fourth, most of the guns that were legally purchased and that were then used to commit a crime are “one crime and out” deals. Most of the stolen guns that are used in crimes are used in a great many crimes. So we have several ways to take the question implied in the search.

If the question is actually “What percentage of criminals legally buy a gun and commit a crime with it,” the percentage is extremely small. The last data suggests that a fraction of one percent of those who commit a gun related crime will legally purchase a gun and then commit a crime with it. Most of those crimes are “crimes of domestic violence,” essentially crimes of passion, and the gun happened to be in the house. If no gun were present, some other weapon, knives, clubs, fists or something else, would have been used instead. While the overwhelming majority of professional criminals will use stolen “street guns” that are cheap but very definitely illegal.

However, if the question is “What percentage of crimes are committed with legally purchased guns” the answer is about six percent of murders – and very few other crimes. Amateurs buy guns at a dealers; which involves extensive paperwork, identification, FBI background checks, and so on. Pros buy guns on the street, where the only requirement is money – or other valuta.

The overwhelming majority of gun related crimes are committed with guns that have been stolen, and traded for drugs. Those guns are passed from criminal to criminal, sold and resold, and may very well be used in hundreds of crimes before they are recovered from someone accused of a crime.

Given that fact, it becomes obvious that no actual count of the number of crimes committed with “illegal guns” is possible. In fact, most gun related crimes are never solved, and are certainly never linked to an individual gun, legally purchased or not.

To illustrate that point, this graphic, taken from the 2009 Uniform Crime Report, shows the clearance rate for various categories of crime.

2009 Crime Clearance Rates

While two out of three homicides are “solved by arrest,” that leaves one third “committed by persons unknown.” And with the provenance of their weapon unknown as well.

We do have a handle on the source of guns recovered from persons arrested and accused of a crime. Of guns recovered from persons arrested and charged with a crime:

84 percent of those guns were stolen in a burglary; including 4 percent stolen from a relative or a friend.

6 percent of those guns were confiscated and resold by a “law enforcement officer.” Legalized armed robbery, in other words.

2 percent of those guns were stolen from the police or the military.

2 percent of those guns were stolen from a parcel or delivery service.

That leaves just six percent of guns taken from arrestees that could properly be considered possible “crime guns” that could also have been legally purchased. And most of those were never used in a crime. If they had been “crime guns” they would already have been ditched.


February 2, 2015 Update In an update to cover the decline in crime and criminal gun use since this was posted: The 2013 National Crime Victimize Survey report there were almost exactly 300,000 crimes, including murders, facilitated with a firearm.

Of those, not more than 5,000 can be shown to have been facilitated with a firearm legally purchased by the offender.

For those seeking more information, there are more than a thousand posts at the Alley covering various aspects of the overwhelming percentage of crimes committed with stolen and trafficked guns.


About Stranger

Extranos Alley is a Collaborate effort to provide up to information on the relationship between restrictive gun laws and violent crime; as well as other related topics. While emphasis is on United States gun laws and crime, we also provide data on crime trends world wide.
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