New report details illegal gun trafficking trends in the US

A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives report found an alarming link between legal guns being sold to someone who can't buy one.
Posted at 8:18 PM, Feb 02, 2023

A new study has stirred concerns about how gun violence is accelerating in the United States.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives report — the federal government's first gun crime report in more than 20 years — indicates guns that are legally purchased are now being found more quickly at crime scenes.

"This is indicating that there was trafficking taking place," said Michael Lawlor, a criminal justice professor at the University of New Haven. "In other words, people are legally buying guns and putting those guns into the hands of people who plan on committing crimes with those guns."

Lawlor authored the nation's first red flag law in Connecticut in 1999, which legalized the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may pose a danger to themselves or others. He says this report is clear evidence that some people are making money by selling their guns to would-be criminals.

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"Those guns are very rapidly, in many cases now less than a year from the time of the legal purchase, being used in a crime, usually by somebody else," Lawlor said. "And so the question is: How did those guns get from the legal owner to the criminal? And we do know that sometimes this is the result of a theft of the guns; other times it's the result of trafficking."

Lawlor says in many states, it's easy for gun traffickers to cover up their crime by simply saying those guns were stolen. In fact, the report shows almost 2 million guns were reported stolen between 2017 and 2021. Almost all of those, 96%, were from private individuals.

The report also points to a couple of very troubling trends — one being the proliferation of so-called "ghost guns."

"These are guns that don't have serial numbers, hard to trace them," Lawlor said. "They're put together from pieces that you can order online."

There's also a more than five-fold increase in the number of Glock switches, which are devices that convert a legal semi-automatic weapon into an illegal fully automatic one.

"This is a real harbinger of bad things to come, you know, the ability to sort of fire literally 30 bullets, 100 bullets, in the space of just a few seconds," Lawlor said.

The device was used in a shoot-out with police in Houston, Texas that left three officers injured. The suspect used an illegally modified pistol with a high-capacity ammo drum and a Glock switch.

In a five year period between 2012 and 2016, 814 of these types of "converters" were found by the ATF. That number jumped to over 5,100 in the five years documented in the most recent report.

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