Firearm Traces: Pointing Fingers

Bloomberg’s anti-rights propaganda outlet, The Trace, has been looking at the ATF’s 2018 firearm trace data in an attempt to draw some conclusions about the sources of “crime” guns.

Potential Gun Trafficking Hubs Revealed in ATF Data
The aggregate data from those trace reports, analyzed by The Trace, provides a map of the interstate routes that display the most glaring signs of firearms trafficking. The data also bolsters the well-documented pattern of guns flowing from states with loose gun laws to nearby states with stricter ones. (emphasis added)

Meh… not so much. You only see that if you carefully ignore most of the source states (and territories).

The data The Trace used is here. You could easily spend days perusing it all, but let’s pick out a few tidbits.

For all they talk of “time to crime” (T2C) and “crime guns,” the fact is that 26.1% of the 336,549 traces were for “found firearms” and “investigation” not related to an actual crime. If the ATF separates those out and computes a time to crime for just the firearms involved in a crime (oddly, “abortion” accounts for two firearms), I haven’t found it yet.

There are quite a few traces that did not reveal an original source. It would be interesting to know how many of those had obliterated serial numbers; if they could be traced, I’d expect them to lower the average T2C. Contrariwise, if a large number were untraceable due to age (think pre- GCA’68), that should tend to raise the T2C average.

But we have large numbers that can be sourced. In Illinois, for example, they traced 14,062 firearms. The Trace blames that on Indiana’s comparatively weak laws, listing that state as the top out-of-state source. And that appears to be true.

But it’s not the top source state. That honor belongs to Illinois itself.

  • Total traces: 14,062
  • Indiana sourced: 1,458
  • Illinois sourced: 5,337

Illinois was not merely the source (37.95% of traced guns) of 3.66 times as many firearms as Indiana; it exceeds the next 48 known source states combined.

How’re those strict Illinois laws working for ya?

Webster said the differences between [CA and NV] gun laws create incentives to traffic weapons across the Sierra Nevadas. California has among the tightest gun regulations in the country, with universal background checks, waiting periods, and limits on certain types of firearms.

Since you mention California…

  • Total traces: 42,488
  • California sourced: 17,011 (40.04%)
  • Nevada sourced: 1,714

California exceeds all the other known source states and Guam combined (10,143), by 6,868.

The demonized Nevada was the source for a fraction — 10.08%, a tenth —  of the number of oh-so-well-regulated/restricted/controlled California, and was just 4.03% of the total California traces.

Now for a bit of irony, Nevada had 3,517 traces. As you should expect by now, Nevada itself was the lead source (50.5%). California accounted for 4.29% of Nevada’s traces, a hair higher than the reverse shares. Must be those highly effective Cal gun laws.

If all you look for is interstate trafficking, that’s what you’ll find. Rather like going metal detector hunting with the sensor set for copper pennies, and missing gold jewelry. But if you look at everything, you’ll discover that intrastate trafficking is the real issue.

One final point: Those out-of-state sources don’t necessarily reflect trafficking. They can also indicate perfectly lawful moves.

Like millions of Americans, I’m fairly mobile. I’ve lived in several states, and sometimes lawfully purchased firearms in those states. Several years ago, I had two firearms stolen in Tennessee. One of them was lawfully purchased in a private sale while I had lived in Georgia; the other was lawfully purchased from an FFL in Indiana. I subsequently moved — repeatedly — and lawfully took those firearms along.

If those two guns ever turn up in a Tennessee crime (sadly, I’ve never been informed of their recovery), The Trace will gleefully point to them as arms “trafficked” from two states they love to slander as “crime gun source states.” Even though they were lawfully moved to Tennessee, not “trafficked.”

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