Home / Crime / Articles / Who buys the guns that are used in crimes? A closer look at the buyers

When a gun is first recovered from a crime scene, it isn’t always clear who bought it. A new report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), however, provides some data on the people who purchase guns later used in crimes, also known as crime guns. Here are four main takeaways.

The share of crime guns traced to women is on the rise.

In 2017, 83% of crime guns traced by the ATF were bought by men, while women bought 17%. Since then, the share of crime guns bought by women has risen five points: in 2021, the ATF traced 22% of crime guns to women.

The largest increase happened between 2020 and 2021, when the share of female purchasers increased by over two percentage points.

Since the ATF does not collect firearm ownership data in a centralized manner, it is difficult to confirm if the trend indicates more women buying guns in general.


Young adults are a disproportionately large percentage of people who buy guns later used in crimes. 

People ages 18 to 24 were 9% of the US population in 2021, but were 22% of buyers of traced crime guns. Similarly, 25–34-year-olds made up 14% of the population, but 33% of buyers of traced crime guns.

The ATF groups buyers of crime guns over 35 altogether. This makes it hard to do further age-specific data analysis, even though there may be differences in purchasing patterns for 35-year-old customers and 70-year-old customers.

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A buyer is not necessarily the person who uses the gun to commit a crime.

When comparing the age breakdowns of gun purchasers versus who possessed the gun at the time of the crime, the numbers are similar, but not the same. This shows that the gun purchaser is not necessarily the gun user.

Notably, 3% of the people who possessed traced crime guns were minors, who are not legally permitted to buy guns.

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The share of crime guns traced to people ages 18–34 is increasing.

From 2019 to 2021, the share of guns 18–25-year-olds bought rose by 3 percentage points, while the share bought by 25–34-year-olds rose by 2.

The share of guns bought by people 35 and older shrank accordingly, down 5 percentage points.

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PART III: Crime Guns Recovered and Traced Within the United States and Its Territories