Q&A – How Many Crimes Are Committed By Legal vs Illegal Guns

Today’s entry - Brian, can you do research on crimes committed with legal guns and illegal guns. Maybe, how many deaths with legal vs illegal guns.

Bottom Line: This is one of the most complicated topics to research for one very specific reason. The definition of a legally owned firearm varies from state to state. That means that you must pull info from each state and D.C. and even then, it’s not perfect because not all record-keeping indicates whether a firearm was legally or illegally possessed when someone was charged with a crime. With that disclaimer out of the way, I can provide some approximations. 

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statics kept active nationwide research on the topic thru 2004. Back then the breakout on crimes committed with the use of a firearm consisted of 52% illegally obtained and 48% legally obtained.

Since then, many states, including Florida, have tightened gun laws. As gun laws have tightened, more guns used in crimes have been illegally possessed. The most comprehensive study on the topic more recently was conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. They found that in the states that had the most lenient guns laws, only about 40% of the guns used were illegally owned. In the states with the strictest laws, about 65% of the guns were illegally owned. That means that most crimes are committed with illegally possessed guns. 

State laws do heavily factor into whether a gun is obtained legally or illegally but would-be criminals aren’t less likely to obtain a gun if they can’t purchase one legally. They're simply more likely to obtain it illegally with tougher laws. This jibes with some of the higher-profile examples, i.e. Chicago. Illinois has some of the most restrictive gun control policy in the country, yet Chicago usually has the highest homicide rate. There is one big number that stands out as an area that might be positively impacted by reform. Background checks. 

The top five ways firearms are obtained by criminals:

  • #1: Family Member or Friend
  • #2: Gun Store
  • #3: Pawn Shop
  • #4: Flea Market
  • #5: Gun Show

If all transfers were subjected to background checks, even likely, to have an impact given that only 22% of gun transfers take place outside of licensed dealers, however, 48% of guns used by criminals do. 

Submit your question using one of these methods. 

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com

Twitter: @brianmuddradio

Facebook: Brian Mudd https://www.facebook.com/brian.mudd1

Photo by: Getty Images North America

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