DOJ Survey: Criminals Don't Get Firearms From Gun Stores, Shows

A government study of federal and state prisoners shows only 1.3% got their guns via retail sale.

Most criminals get their guns through illicit sources on the street or are gifted guns by friends or relatives.
Most criminals get their guns through illicit sources on the street or are gifted guns by friends or relatives.BudsGunShop

This won't come as news to anyone who pays attention to crime statistics, but the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has found that the vast majority of criminals armed with firearms obtained their guns from a place other than a gun shop or gun show.

A nationwide survey conducted in 2016 of 1.37 million inmates at both the sate and federal level found that about a third say they possessed or carried a firearm while committing the crime that landed them in prison.

"...There is no such thing as criminals exploiting a ‘gun show loophole’ to arm themselves for their crimes. Perhaps lawmakers should spend less time on these ‘solutions in search of a problem’ and more time on fixing the background check system, or on any of the issues that voters actually rank as a priority.”

- —Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF senior vice president of government and public Affairs

Of those 256,400 prisoners, about 43 percent said they obtained their guns from illicit sources, often by bartering stolen goods or drugs.

The next leading source of criminal guns, coming in at about 25 percent, came as gifts or purchases from friends or family members.

Surprisingly, only about 6 percent said they stole the guns they used in their crimes.

So what about legal sources like gun shows, flea markets, gun shops, and pawn shops? Only about 10 percent of the criminals surveyed said they were able to get a gun from these outlets through direct purchases or trades. Of those, most reported that they went through a background check during the purchase. However, in many cases, the individuals did not use their real name or information.

Just 1.3 percent of prisoners who committed crimes with firearms had obtained them through a retail sale.
Just 1.3 percent of prisoners who committed crimes with firearms had obtained them through a retail sale.DOJ

After all that, it appears that only 1.3 percent of prisoners who committed crimes with firearms had obtained them through a retail sale.

In this story from guns.com, firearms industry insiders with the National Shooting Sports Foundation said the news comes as no surprise, as they have long noted the steady decline in the number of firearms sourced from gun retailers used by criminals.

"While the latest survey covers federal inmates as well, our chart above compares only the state inmate data, which has been a consistent metric over time," said Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF senior vice president of government and public affairs in the story. "This apples-to-apples comparison reveals that only 10 percent of criminals obtained their firearm from a retailer. Of that small and declining share, the survey shows that about 7 percent of inmates used their own names when purchasing a firearm from a retailer."

In 1991, retailers accounted for about 21 percent of guns possessed by state inmates. By 1997, the number had dropped to 14 percent. In the survey released this week for 2016, that number is down to 10 percent, showing it is more difficult for criminals to buy guns in the U.S. than perhaps ever before.

Keane added that this regular survey has "consistently shown that there is no such thing as criminals exploiting a 'gun show loophole' to arm themselves for their crimes. Perhaps lawmakers should spend less time on these 'solutions in search of a problem' and more time on fixing the background check system, or on any of the issues that voters actually rank as a priority."