DOJ Report: Guns Carried During Crimes Most Frequently Obtained Off the Street or Underground

By Emily Ward | January 15, 2019 | 12:02pm EST

( - A report published on Jan. 9 by the Department of Justice (DOJ) found that in 2016, criminals who carried firearms while they committed crimes most frequently obtained the guns either off the street or underground, rather than through legal purchases.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported that an estimated 287,400 prisoners possessed a gun in 2016 while they committed the crimes for which they were imprisoned. Of these, “more than half (56%) had either stolen it (6%), found it at the scene of the crime (7%), or obtained it off the street or from the underground market (43%). Most of the remainder (25%) had obtained it from a family member or friend, or as a gift.”

By contrast, according to BJS, only seven percent of guns carried during crimes in 2016 were purchased by the criminal “under their own name from a licensed firearm dealer,” revealing that the vast majority of criminals who possess guns apparently do not obtain them legally.

In addition, only 1.3% of prisoners who used a gun while committing their offense obtained it through a retail source, such as a gun shop or store, pawn shop, flea market or gun show.


Of prisoners who possessed a gun during their offense, but did not necessarily use it, 7.5 percent purchased or traded it at a gun shop or store, 1.6 percent at a pawn shop, 0.4 percent at a flea market and 0.8 percent at a gun show.

The BJS report also revealed that handguns were, by far, the most commonly carried type of firearm among criminals. Of all prisoners, 20.8 percent possessed a firearm during their offense. Most of these firearms were handguns. In fact, 18.4 percent of all prisoners interviewed possessed a handgun during their offense, while only 1.5 percent possessed a rifle and only 1.6 percent possessed a shotgun.

In addition, most prisoners who bought a gun at a retail source said a background check was conducted. These prisoners, however, only comprised 6.7 percent of all criminals who had possessed a gun while committing their offense, according to the BJS.

The report was released a day after members of Congress introduced a bill that would mandate a background check for every firearm sale. H.R.8, which is being called the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, was introduced in the House of Representatives on Jan. 8 and sponsored by 168 Democrats and five Republicans.

Data used in the report was collected through face-to-face interviews with inmates who were held in a state or federal prison within the U.S. during 2016.


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