A report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) reveals that traced crime guns — guns later used in crimes — that originated from gun shows increased by 19% from 2017 to 2021. It also reveals that 99% of traced crime guns were initially obtained from a dealer, pawnbroker, or gun manufacturer. Here’s a look at how gun show sales have rebounded after the pandemic and where people buy guns for crimes.
Crime guns bought at gun shows are on the rise
Traced crime guns bought from gun shows increased 19% from 2017 (7,612) to 2021 (9,089). Both dealers with a federal firearm license (FFL) and unlicensed individuals alike may sell firearms at gun shows.
Roughly 42,000, or 3%, of the 1.5 million crime guns traced by the ATF between 2017 to 2021 were obtained at gun shows. However, because this percentage counts guns sold by FFL holders, not those sold by unlicensed individuals, it is an underestimate.
Federal law does not require unlicensed individuals keep gun show sales records or conduct background checks. Unlicensed vendors can sell guns at gun shows as long as they do so as a hobby and not for their livelihood.
Because transactions between individuals at gun shows remain largely unregulated, national data on these gun transfers is unavailable.
Most traced crime guns come from dealers
From 2017 to 2021, 70% of crime guns traced by the ATF were obtained from a dealer, which is defined by law as anyone in the business of selling or repairing firearms. Dealers can be retail businesses or wholesale suppliers.
Twenty-three percent of crime guns were acquired from a pawnbroker. A pawnbroker offers a quick loan in exchange for a valuable such as jewelry or a gun. If the borrower can't repay on time, the pawnbroker keeps the item. As a result, pawn shops often have guns for sale at lower prices.
The number of traced crime guns bought from dealers increased over 30% during this time. Traced crime guns bought from pawnbrokers increased 78%, while traced crime guns bought from manufacturers increased by approximately 150%.