(CNSNews.com) – Seventy-nine percent of gun crimes in Pittsburgh in 2008 were committed by non-gun owners, a study published in the July edition of Social Medicine found.
Researchers led by Anthony Fabio, an epidemiologist at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, traced the sources of all 893 firearms recovered from crime scenes in 2008 by the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Firearm Tracking Unit (FTU), which resulted in 762 different cases involving 607 perpetrators.
Of the 607 perpetrators, 478 (78.7 percent) “were carrying or linked to a firearm that did not belong to them,” researchers found. Only 87 (14.2 percent) were gun owners legally carrying their firearm at the time the crime was committed, they noted.
“Most perpetrators (79%) were carrying a gun that did not belong to them…. Given that 79% of perpetrators are connected to firearms for which they are not the legal owner, it is highly likely that a significant amount of theft or trafficking is the source of perpetrators’ firearms,” the study noted.
More than 30 percent of guns confiscated by the bureau’s FTU were confirmed to be stolen, according to the study. However, 62 percent of gun owners told police that they did not know their weapon had been stolen.
“The primary purpose of this study was to explore the characteristics of stolen firearms. Determining whether or not a firearm is stolen can be quite difficult,” researchers pointed out.
“Part of the problem rests on the underreporting of theft by owners… Additionally, illegally diverted firearms may be reported by the owner as stolen to conceal firearms trafficking.”
Of the 893 firearms confiscated by Pittsburgh police in 2008, 57 (6.4 percent) were listed in the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), meaning these guns were also used in prior incidents, according to the study. NIBIN allows law enforcement to check if guns were previously used in past cases, which aids any new investigation.
Another 169 firearms (18.9 percent) “were reported stolen prior to recovery, and 123 (13.7 percent) were reported stolen after recovery,” according to the study.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that between 2005 and 2010, about 1.4 million guns were stolen during burglaries or other property crimes in the U.S., but at least 80 percent (186,800) had not been recovered. The agency also found that burglaries accounted for 58 percent of the stolen guns. Robberies accounted for only about 7 percent of all gun thefts.
Although “broad relationships between violence, poor health outcomes and firearms is well-established, there is limited research in the public health field on the source of guns collected by police departments, many of which are used for violent crime that results in injury or death,” the study noted.
“Given the major public health issue of firearm injuries and death, it is important to understand the ‘pathway’ from firearm source to violent crime outcomes,” it concluded.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 31,593 people died from firearm injuries in the U.S. in 2008. Guns accounted for 17.4 percent of all injury-related deaths that year.