Four Crimes, Tiny Numbers: ATF Statistics

In a recent Government Accounting Office report to Congress, most lawmakers have focused on the firearm owners who refuse to commit crimes or fall for stings created by the ATF. Buried in the report is a chart showing how incredibly few legal gun owners are arrested each year for gun violations. The chart shows the number of arrests made in three years, 2014, 2015, and 2016, for four crimes. The number of arrests are tiny, showing how law abiding gun owners are.

The four crimes are these:

  1. Dealing firearms without a license
  2. Unlawful interstate transfer of firearms
  3. Sale to prohibited individual
  4. Prohibited person in possession of firearm

Dealing firearms without a license averages 107 arrests a year. There are about 125,000 federal firearms licenses in the United States of various types. There are about 100 million firearm owners (30% of the U.S. population). The chances of a firearm owner being arrested for dealing without a license is roughly one in a million per year.

The chart below shows the numbers.

ATF statistics showing the number of arrests made in 2014, 2015, and 2016
ATF statistics showing the number of arrests made in three years, 2014, 2015, and 2016, for four crimes

Unlawful interstate transfer of firearms averages about 18 a year. It is hardly noticeable. Sales to prohibited individuals are in between, about 68 a year. Far less than 1 per million firearms owners.

These are only Federal arrests, not state arrests. Most states have a number of categories of prohibited possessors. These categories may differ significantly from the Federal categories. Some states will mirror the Federal rules, some will not.

My suspicion is the vast majority of prohibited possessor arrests and prosecutions are done at the state level, but almost no state prosecutions are done for dealing firearms without a license or unlawful interstate transfer of firearms. Most states do not require a license to sell firearms. There may be a significant number of state prosecutions for sales to prohibited individuals. Some states have a prohibition on those sales. However, the offense is hard to prove, while illegal possession is relatively easy.

Firearm dealers and legal firearm owners are extremely law abiding. The numbers draw into question the rationale for the gun control act of 1968. The large number of violations occur with people who are prohibited possessors, and that is a crime in most of the states, without federal law.

When the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA 1968) was passed, crime increased. It was only after states started implementing shall issue carry permits that crime rates started to drop. Today, crime rates are back to the levels they were before GCA 1968 was passed.

ATF Logo Maybe we do not need a BATFE to regulate firearm sales. The ATF did not exist before 1972. In the opinion of many, it has a built a bad reputation since then.

Focusing on the weapon used is based on false assumptions about reality.

Weapons do not create crime or motives. It seems the number of guns in society has little to do with the number of crimes in society. To reduce the number of crimes, reduce the number of criminals, or keep them locked up and separate from the rest of the population.

Keeping weapons out of the hands of those prone to violence may do some good. As the arrests show, the most effective way to do this is to focus on the offender, in this case, the prohibited possessor.

Several programs have shown the removal of a small but very violent number of career criminals, can have a dramatically lower the homicide rate. Project Exile is an example. David Kennedy is worth reading to show how it can be done.

Did you realize the numbers were so low?

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Comments (11)

  1. This article & the statistics are neither relevant nor accurate to the overall picture in the battle between us legal/law-abiding gun owners & those who speak out about those guilty of the majority of mass casualty shootings or domestic violence shootings (most of which occurred at the hands of nut jobs who had LEGAL firearm access or ownership) & those in legislative positions (who many gun owners wrongfully accuse of being completely anti-gun). These are statistics that are obtained from a very narrow-based source…only the currently licensed FFL dealers. There’s no accurate way to study or collect information from individuals who routinely deal in stolen weapons as they obviously have no FFL license so no record of the sales numbers; the same goes for interstate transfer of firearms by criminals or unethical individuals; a criminal or non-FFL individual would certainly not reveal any statistical info; & lastly there are many thousands of prohibited individuals carrying guns on the street. One cannot easily or scientifically prove that all of us law-abiding gun owners are the reason there is less crime as one person posted here…there’s just no way to study this to prove direct correlation…it is all supposition. Also the reason our country is still free is due to having the best military, law enforcement, judicial system, & our US Constitution. It is democracy, not some factless deduction that all of us law-abiding gun owners & those of us who conceal carry are directly responsible, especially against an imagined “tyrannical” or “shadow” govt. These modes of thinking are nothing but figments of overactive, abnormal imaginations. It is easy to remember all the paranoia among law-abiding gun owners when Obama was elected…the following year I had to drive 120 miles/2 hours just to buy my once very common Remington 30-06 180 gr PSP Core-Lokt ammo for my elk hunting at an almost doubled price, & it wasn’t Obama’s fault. This was a gun & ammo manufacturer fear-induced bunch of nonsense (also fomented by the NRA & the gun lobbyists) which only served to permanently drive prices higher for both guns & ammo. It was like the fake “we’re almost out of oil crisis” which was perpetrated on all of us by big oil in the early ’70s when we had lines of cars stretching for blocks & blocks all because of fear & a manufactured “shortage” crisis. All the while big oil corporate America laughed at the stupid sheep & chalked up record billions of $$$ in gasoline/diesel sales ever since then. This was similar during Obama’s tenure in both firearms/ammunition sales because too many people on both sides of the political spectrum are unwilling to keep a centrist view where the operative word is compromise! So many gun lobbyists have become rich by promoting the far right-wing “Oh dear, the shadow government is going to take my guns away!” “Oh dear, Obama will take our guns away!” “Oh dear, the Democrats want to take our guns away!” BS!

    I am a lifelong centrist who wrote in my vote for Ohio’s Gov. John Kasich & not for the current traitor in the White House. I hunt & target shoot & have the permitting to conceal carry in 40 states. I have many centrist Democrat & Republican friends who are Second Amendment supporters & I am sick of all the stereotyping on both sides, but especially by Second Amendment supporters who can’t or refuse to maintain civility in the midst of all of the debate. You only hurt the cause when you share your rabid views & forget your manners! You will catch more flies with honey than with vinegar! MM

    1. Civility? Traitor in the White House? Orange haired orangutan? The only ones in this thread I see being rabid and uncivil (as usual) are those who think they know more than the rest of us. No we did not lose gun rights under Obama but it wasn’t because he didn’t try. It was because our elected representatives (helped by the NRA you despise so much) beat him back. If a person has any awareness as well as any remembrance of the news, he knows Obama’s biggest lament was his inability to restrict firearm ownership. Big corporations and the NRA have their flaws, as you and I and all of us do too, but would you prefer a managed economy and no NRA?

  2. And the vast majority of us gun owners are the ONLY reason our country is still free. I saw an estimate about the number of guns in America, which nobody knows for sure, but was said to maybe be 600 million. Can’t recall the article source, but they even estimated the amount of ammunition in the Billions.
    Regardless, guns and ammo are worthless if we aren’t prepared to use them to protect ourselves from a tyrannical government, despite Obama no longer in charge, we mustn’t let down our guard. There is still a shadow Government, in my opinion, that is now trying even harder to enact laws to prevent us from exercising our right to keep and bear arms which is how we keep the country the Land of the free and home of the brave. Thanks once again Dave for the great article which I always look forward to reading. Keep your powders dry and your guns loaded!

  3. I concluded 20 years ago, the Democrat party is the new Mafia. They use fear & lies to control us & just like the Mafia, they certainly don’t want the citizens capable of defending themselves. They steal our money, our self reliance, our dignity & our ability to be self sufficient.
    Forty years ago I was a Democrat because I was ignorant & actually believed Democrats believed in Democracy. FEAR is the #1 tool they use to control us.

    1. This comes from a life-long independent centrist who will point out to you that the right wing is no different than the left when it comes to fomenting fear & using lies in their attempts to further their agenda as well. Firearm & ammo sales soared exponentially when Pres. Obama was elected, yet I did not lose a single reasonable right during his presidency. However the NRA & gun lobbyists also used fear & lies to try to convince those who hold your viewpoint that the Second Amendment would be abolished. So tell me who came out of this best? Try gun manufacturers, ammo manufacturers, the gun lobbyists, & the companies making firearm accessories…they laughed all the way to their overflowing bank accounts! And you & I paid the price & are still paying the price because prices only went up & have stayed up! So neither the right nor the left has cornered the market on creating & using propaganda & lies in an effort to further their own warped & unrealistic agendas. You’ll never achieve balance & truth by stereotyping & lumping an entire political party into YOUR own personal perception. There’s good & bad in all of us, & only FACT-based education & life experience gives us what we need to develop into reasonable, kind, caring, & loving humanity, or should I qualify that by saying most of us, definitely excluding the orange haired orangutan in the White House who wants to be a dictator. MM

      Here’s a challenge…research all the imported ammo & firearms from our country’s enemies (of which some firearms are sold under U.S. company labeling) like Russia, China, & other repressive regimes. If you purchase firearms, parts, optics, accessories, or ammo from those countries you are not a true supporter of our U.S. Constitution (which inclues our wonderful Second Amendment) as the profits from all of those purchasees only goes to strengthen the militaries of said countries as those militaries control & run all arms sales with the ultimate goal of destroying our incredible USA!

  4. Most people reading this article know full well that gun control was never about guns, it was about control, just as the origin of England’s gun control was not about crime, it was the ruling elite trying to protect themselves when revolution was sweeping through counties of Europe in 1840. Politicians know full well that gun laws do not impact true crime. That is just the excuse used to get gullible uninformed voters on board with them.

  5. Hi Dave,

    Really appreciate many of your posts. I’m an avid (suburban residential) tactical pistol shooter, who has gone into the lion’s den – joined the local Mothers Demand Action Group. Ours is definitely pro 2nd Amendment, and pro reasonable legislation that protects folks reasonably. I’m sure I’m not going to be aligned with some of their legislative pursuits, but there seems to be a good opportunity to influence and be influenced – and match wits and knowledge with some very smart folks..

    This particular post where you’ve analyzed the BATF data for interpretive context is realy great. You know where I’ll be using it next 🙂

    Keep up the great work!

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