The gun industry has long attempted to avoid taking responsibility for the use of its products in crime. The industry has even successfully fought for protections like federal immunity from most lawsuits and a rule that makes it difficult for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to share information about the guns that are used in crimes.
To combat this head-in-the-sand approach to gun violence, Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund embarked on a city-by-city collection of data on recovered crime guns, specifically seeking to answer the question of which gun manufacturers’ weapons are showing up at America’s crime scenes. The data collection was made possible by Everytown’s long-standing coalition of mayors fighting to end gun violence — Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
The data received included 171,501 crime guns recovered across 31 U.S. cities, including recoveries from 2017 to 2021. Guns recovered in connection to crimes — referred to as “crime guns” — are important to our understanding of gun violence, trafficking and public safety solutions.
Our analysis finds that Glock has the dubious distinction of being the gun manufacturer with the most crime guns. On average, over 1.5 times more Glocks were recovered at crime scenes than the second-leading manufacturer across the collected data. In 2021, four gun manufacturers accounted for over half of the recovered crime guns in the dataset: Glock, Smith & Wesson, Taurus, and Ruger.
Further, this data received demonstrates the dramatic rise of ghost guns and their increasing popularity among criminals. The data indicates that recoveries of ghost guns nearly tripled from 2020 to 2021. Polymer80, the largest producer of ghost gun parts and kits, was the fifth-largest producer of crime guns in the cities surveyed in 2021.
Everytown has previously conducted analysis on crime guns, examining gun trace data from the ATF over the five-year period from 2017 to 2021. The ATF has found that, among traced crime guns, “new guns that have moved rapidly from the shelf of a [federally licensed dealer] to recovery by law enforcement in three years or less…may have been trafficked.”1ATF, “Following the Gun: Enforcing Federal Laws against Firearms Traffickers,” June 2000, https://www.hsdl.org/?abstract&did=1622, 25; New York State Office of the Attorney General, “Target on Trafficking: New York Crime Gun Analysis,” https://targettrafficking.ag.ny.gov/#pa. This short “time-to-crime,” when combined with other factors, like crossing a state border, is a strong indicator that a gun was trafficked.2ATF, “Following the Gun,” 25. Everytown’s previous findings related to this data include:
Over a quarter of traced guns were brought across state lines before being used in a crime. The 10 states that exported the highest number of guns recovered in crimes were Georgia, Texas, Arizona, Florida, Virginia, Indiana, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi, respectively.
Of the over 1.4 million crime guns traced over this five-year period, more than 45 percent — 642,306 — were used in a crime within just three years of their initial retail sale. From 2020 to 2021, the number of guns recovered within three years of purchase increased 33 percent, from 144,102 to 191,763.
Over the five years studied, 122,089 traced crime guns were likely purchased with the intent to traffic them, and the number of trafficked guns increased 48 percent from 2020 to 2021.
Over a quarter of traced guns were brought across state lines before being used in a crime.
Of the over 1.4 million crime guns traced from 2017 to 2021, more than 45 percent were used in a crime within just three years of their initial retail sale.
The number of trafficked guns increased 48 percent from 2020 to 2021.
But ATF crime gun reporting does not include data on the make or model of the firearm. The gun manufacturers, for their part, have taken a head-in-the-sand approach to the use of their guns in crimes. As an example, though they are generally informed when their products are recovered and traced by law enforcement, five gun manufacturers recently asserted that they do not track crimes committed with their AR-15-style weapons. Indeed, in a recent report on the sale and marketing of AR-15-style weapons, the House Oversight Committee in the 117th Congress found that gun manufacturers Bushmaster, Daniel Defense, Ruger, Sig Sauer, and Smith & Wesson all told the Committee that they “do not have any systems in place to monitor and analyze deaths and injuries associated with their products.” It is also unclear what, if any, systems the companies maintain to prevent the diversion of their products to the criminal market.
The House Oversight Committee also found that “a small number of gun dealers are disproportionately responsible for flooding our streets with guns that are used in crime,” according to the committee’s then-chair, Representative Carolyn B. Maloney.4Glen Thrush and Katie Benner, “6 Gun Shops, 11,000 Crime Guns,” The New York Times, April 30, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/28/us/politics/gun-shops-weapons-resell.html. The committee’s investigation found that a single gun store in Georgia sold more than 6,000 crime guns from 2014 to 2019, “accounting for more than half of Georgia’s reported guns later recovered at crime scenes.”5Ibid.
There are several steps gun manufacturers could take to prevent diversion of their products to the criminal market. These include:
Establish a dealer code of conduct to ensure that retailers who sell their firearms adhere to basic guidelines;
Implement “Know Your Customer” practices and better monitor their supply chains to detect dealers breaking the law or contributing to crime and cut off those who repeatedly sell guns used in crime;
Stop working with dealers who sell guns in situations where someone may be able to avoid a background check, including gun shows and online marketplaces.
These types of reforms would not be burdensome for the gun industry. In fact, the largest U.S. gun manufacturer, Smith & Wesson, previously agreed to many of them. In March 2000, the company struck a deal with the Clinton Administration, agreeing to implement a dealer code of conduct, keep better track of its inventory, refuse to sell firearms at gun shows where background checks aren’t conducted, and develop smart guns, among several other safety initiatives. However, after facing a nationwide boycott from the gun lobby, Smith & Wesson almost went bankrupt and was sold to new owners.6Christina Austin, “How Gun Maker Smith & Wesson Almost Went Out Of Business When It Accepted Gun Control,” Business Insider, January 21, 2013, https://www.businessinsider.com/smith-and-wesson-almost-went-out-of-business-trying-to-do-the-right-thing-2013-1. The company never lived up to the terms of the deal.
City Crime Gun Data by Manufacturer
To begin to answer the question of who makes the guns most often recovered at crime scenes, Mayors Against Illegal Guns embarked on a city-by-city collection of recovered crime guns. More than 30 cities participated, including:
Smith & Wesson
Smith & Wesson
Taurus, Glock, Smith & Wesson
Smith & Wesson/Glock
The data received includes 91,703 crime guns recovered by police departments across 31 cities in 2020 and 2021.7Note: While data for all 31 cities includes 2021 collections, some cities were not able to produce complete information on crime gun recoveries from 2020. Researchers at Everytown then analyzed this data.
In 2021, four gun manufacturers accounted for over half of the recovered crime guns: Glock (21.1%), Smith & Wesson (13.5%), Taurus (13.0%), and Ruger (7.0%). The findings highlight the potential power these four manufacturers have to combat trafficking; if these four manufacturers took action on their own, the national impact could be substantial. Of course, other gun manufacturers also have a role to play in reducing trafficking and addressing our national’s gun violence epidemic. Of potential interest to investors, two of the top four manufacturers of recovered crime guns are publicly traded companies: Smith & Wesson and Ruger.
Guns Recovered at Crime Scenes by Manufacturer in 2021
The data received indicates that Glock pistols have become the leading weapon of choice for criminals. Glock was the top manufacturer of recovered crime guns across the entire pool of cities surveyed, in addition to being first in crime gun recoveries in 19 of the reporting cities, respectively. On average, over 1.5 times more Glocks were recovered than the second-leading manufacturer across the collected data.
On average, over 1.5 times more Glocks were recovered than the second-leading manufacturer across the collected data.
The reasons are multifold. Glock has a large market share, but it also primarily produces relatively low-cost pistols that are very easy to operate. Lacking more traditional safety mechanisms and requiring a lighter trigger pull than other pistols,8Erin McCarthy, “Why the Glock Became America’s Handgun,” Popular Mechanics, January 12, 2012, https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/weapons/a7445/why-the-glock-became-americas-handgun/. you simply point and shoot — a selling point to some consumers and criminals. Considering its dubious distinction of being America’s number one crime gun, it is imperative that Glock take active steps to reduce the use of its products in crime.
Recoveries of ghost guns nearly tripled from 2020 to 2021.
This dataset of city crime gun recoveries also underscores the dramatic rise of ghost guns showing up at crime scenes in America’s cities. The data received indicates that recoveries of ghost guns nearly tripled from 2020 to 2021. Polymer80, the largest producer of ghost gun parts and kits, was the fifth-largest producer of crime guns in the cities surveyed in 2021 — a stunning finding that quantifies both the danger of untraceable ghost guns and their popularity among criminals. To further underscore the point, in a subset of 17 cities that were able to report five years of recovered crime gun data, Polymer80 rose from zero in 2017 to 757 in 2021.
The Costs of Gun Violence and the Path Forward for the Gun Industry
While the firearms industry takes in an estimated $9 billion in revenue annually,13Shahool Al Bari, “Guns & Ammunition Manufacturing in the US,” IBISWorld, December 2021, 19-20. Note: Civilian and law enforcement sales accounted for 46.9% of the gun industry’s total estimated revenue of $18.4 billion for 2021. tens of thousands of Americans are killed and injured by firearms every year, forever shattering the lives of survivors. But even those who aren’t directly affected by gun violence end up paying for it. An analysis by the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund using a PIRE injury cost model and data from federal, state, and scholarly sources shows that gun violence costs $557 billion every year through the resulting police investigations, medical costs, long-term physical and mental health care, earnings lost to disability or death, criminal justice costs, and more.
To put it another way, taxpayers, survivors, families, and employers pay an average of $7.79 million daily in health care costs and lose an estimated $147.32 million per day related to work missed due to injury or death. American taxpayers also pay $30.16 million every day in police and criminal justice costs for investigations, prosecutions, and incarcerations. Employers lose an average of $1.47 million on a daily basis in productivity, revenue, and costs required to recruit and train replacements for victims of gun violence, and society as a whole loses $1.34 billion daily in quality-of-life costs from the suffering and lost well-being of gun violence victims and their families.14Everytown Research & Policy, “The Economic Cost of Gun Violence,” July 19, 2022, https://everytownresearch.org/report/the-economic-cost-of-gun-violence/.
However, while the rest of the country absorbs these staggering costs, the gun industry continues to profit from the sale of guns — including those used by criminals — while developing even deadlier weapons to boost profits, irresponsibly marketing their products in such a way that ignores or downplays the risks that come with owning a firearm,15Nick Penzenstadler and Amritpal Kaur Sandhu-Longoria, “Are gun advertisements in FTC’s crosshairs? Critics decry ‘toxic’ messaging as firearm sales soar,” USA Today, August 18, 2022, https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/investigations/2022/08/18/gun-advertisement-marketing-crackdown-federal-trade-commission/10301417002/. and taking a hands-off approach to policing their own supply chains. It is time for gun makers and sellers to step up and do their fair share to protect our communities — especially our kids, as firearms are now the leading cause of death among children and teens. Empty “thoughts and prayers” and gun industry PR efforts are not enough.
The crime gun data that Everytown received and analyzed for this report should add to the mountain of evidence available to gun manufacturers about the use of their products in crimes. It is high time that firearm companies took their obligation to the public more seriously, by, at the very least, beginning to seal the cracks in their supply chains and cutting off irresponsible dealers who sell a disproportionate number of guns later recovered at crime scenes.
Would that cost the gun industry some sales? Maybe. But the rest of the country is already paying the tab for the death and carnage caused by the guns made by these manufacturers. The industry can no longer pretend that it has no responsibility for how its products are sold and used.
Everytown Research & Policy is a program of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, an independent, non-partisan organization dedicated to understanding and reducing gun violence. Everytown Research & Policy works to do so by conducting methodologically rigorous research, supporting evidence-based policies, and communicating this knowledge to the American public.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. WONDER Online Database, Underlying Cause of Death. A yearly average was developed using four years of the most recent available data: 2018 to 2021.