ATF Trace Data

It should be noted before reading this that the ATF states quite clearly on this data:

Firearms selected for tracing are not chosen for purposes of determining which types, makes or models of firearms are used for illicit purposes. The firearms selected do not constitute a random sample and should not be considered representative of the larger universe of all firearms used by criminals, or any subset of that universe. Firearms are normally traced to the first retails seller, and sources reported for firearms traced do not necessarily represent the sources or methods by which firearms in general are acquired for use in crime.

But the other side will be sure to draw conclusions, so I thought I’d take a look at some of the data.

  • Pennsylvania recovered 5607 total firearms which could be traced to a state in 2006. 78% of all firearms traced to within state. 6% of all guns traced came from contiguous neighboring states. 3% came from Maryland and Virginia, which have a one-gun-per-month law.
  • Delaware traced 585 total guns back to a state. 60% of all guns traced came from within state. 11% of all guns traced came from Pennsylvania. 10% came from Virginia and Maryland, both of which have one-gun-a-month laws.
  • Maryland traced 4156 back to a state. 56% traced back to Maryland itself. Pennsylvania accounted for 5%. Virginia accounted for 11%. Maryland and Virginia both have one-gun-a-month laws.
  • West Virginia traced 628 guns back to states. 73% traced back to West Virginia itself. 3% traced back to Pennsylvania. 6% traced back to Virginia and Maryland.
  • Ohio traced 5695 guns to source states. 75% traced back to Ohio itself. Pennsylvania accounted for less than 2%.
  • New York State traced 6085 guns back to states in 2006. 29% of guns traced to New York itself. Pennsylvania accounted for 8%. Virginia, which has one-gun-a-month accounted for 9%. It should be noted that New York City, where legal gun ownership is effectively prohibited, accounts for most of the traces for New York State. New York also has registration of handguns, which would make authorities unlikely to trace a firearm that originates within state.
  • New Jersey traced 1878 firearms back to states. 26% of the guns traced in New Jersey came from New Jersey. 18% came from Pennsylvania. 7% came from Virginia. 3% from New York. 1% from Delaware.

Conclusions to draw? Well, there aren’t many. You have to control for a lot of other factors, like gun ownership rates, trace policies, etc. That’s why the ATF says not to draw conclusions from it. A large percentage of New Jersey’s trace requests are done by Camden and Trenton, both of which border PA directly. Given the intermingling of Trenton, Camden, and Philadelphia’s criminal cultures, it’s not all the surprising there’s a lot of gun intermingling too. We were high for Delaware too, indicating that there’s some criminal intermingling with Wilmington, which is also right over the border.

One might be tempted to conclude that strict gun laws are the reason New York and New Jersey trace most of their guns to out of state, however California, with strict laws, traced 71% of firearms to itself, which is on par with less strict states.

Get ready for the onslaught of people taking this data, and using it to push for more gun laws.

3 Responses to “ATF Trace Data”

  1. Besides not drawing conclusions from this data, keep in mind that a lot of traces have nothing to do with a gun that has been used in a crime. So you can’t even say that these numbers somehow correlate to gun-related crime in certain states.

  2. Sebastian says:

    A lot of the traces for New Jersey and New York originate with “possession of weapon”. They have another category called “Weapons offense”. I wonder what the difference is?

  3. Kevin Baker says:

    The more important question:

    What was the “time to crime”? In other words, what time elapsed between the original purchase date and the time that the gun showed up as used in a crime?