Maps Tracking Gun Trafficking

Guns ending up on the “black market” is generally bad for everyone. These are typically used in crimes, and each year, the BATFE releases a state by state report of firearm traces which includes firearms that have been recovered from crime scenes (and have purchased both legal and illegally) in the previous year.  The data for 2014 was released this past August actually.

The traces try to identify the purchaser, retailer and possessor of the gun which help them determine how guns enter the black market. In general guns move from areas of low regulation to areas of high regulation which generally follows supply and demand models (guns that are harder to get in high regulation areas command a higher price than they do in low regulation areas).

What I found pretty interesting is the set of infographics that BATFE put together using a set of state maps showing the movement of guns and the number of guns from a state of origin. On the below linked article the number of guns in red are the number that originated in the state and were used in a traceable crime in the referenced state. For example in New Mexico, in 2014, (my home state which interestingly enough is the FOURTH most heavily armed state—finally we make a top five—”with 84,471 legally registered firearms for a population of 2,085,287″), of the 1,114 crime committed with firearms:

  • 823 came from in state
  • 100 came from Texas
  • 27 from Arizona
  • 18 from California, and so on.

Business Insider has extracted just the maps and put them in a slideshow (or you can drill down into the BATFE data).

If you are a data nerd, this is an interesting rabbit hole to follow…

Tom is a former Navy Corpsman that spent some time bumbling around the deserts of Iraq with a Marine Recon unit, kicking in tent flaps and harassing sheep. Prior to that he was a paramedic somewhere in DFW, also doing some Executive Protection work between shifts. Now that those exciting days are behind him, he has embraced his inner “Warrior Hippie” and assaults 14er in his sandals and beard, or engages in rucking adventure challenges while consuming craft beer. To fund these adventures, he writes medical software and builds websites and mobile apps. His latest venture is as one of the founders of; a search engine for all things gun related. He hopes that his posts will help you find solid gear that will survive whatever you can throw at it–he is known (in certain circles) for his curse…ahem, ability…to find the breaking point of anything.


  • Gene

    so… about 80% of guns recovered in NM originated in NM… Maybe I’m missing it, but what revelation comes from this? My initial reaction is “neat, but so what? Focus on the criminals and not an inanimate object.”

    • John Henry Bicycle Lucas

      The idea is to trace the route of the illegal sales, if that can be interrupted it could stop some of the illegal activity. The last people we want with guns is the drug dealers, so I would think some of this goes together.

      At least let’s hope this the reasons for tracking this. I hope to think there are still good people in our government trying to do the right thing and are sincere about it.

      • Bill

        Guns are frequently used as illegal currency in criminal enterprises.

        • Doc Rader

          Sigs are dollar bills,
          Glocks are fifty cent pieces,
          Hi-points are quarters…?

          “For that job I’ll need 3 Sigs and a Glock, but you’ll get back a Hi-point in change…” 🙂

    • Doc Rader

      I just pointed out NM because that is where I’m from. Look at some of the states with strict controls.

  • Don Ward

    I’d hazard a guess that most of this “trafficking” is just your standard moving/immigration patterns of Americans moving to different states for job or other related reasons. It would probably be reasonable to assume the rest of the statistical slop is simply criminals themselves moving from state to state and bringing their illegal weapons with them.

    • Don Ward

      I’ll add that the exception seems to be the Chicago and Indiana connection where there actually does seem to be a concerted effort in trafficking firearms. Which – given the problems of the Windy City – is kind of a “No Shiite Sherlock” assessment of the problem.

      • Blake

        Add Washington DC to that list. There are a handful (<10) of crooked dealers in MD & VA that account for something like 80+% of the sales of guns that end up in BATFE crime traces in the DC area…

        • Buddy_Bizarre

          Are they crooked or do they just happen to be high volume dealers? If they were crooked, why wouldn’t ATF put them out of business?

          • Blake


            “Nearly two out of three guns sold in Virginia since 1998 and recovered by local authorities came from about 1 percent of the state’s dealers – 40 out of the 3,400 selling guns. Most of those 40 had received government warnings that their licenses were in jeopardy because of regulatory violations. But only four had their licenses revoked, and all are still legally selling guns after transferring their licenses, reapplying or re-licensing under new owners.”

            “In Maryland, Realco towers over the other 350 handgun dealers in the state as a source of guns confiscated in the District and Prince George’s County, the most violent jurisdictions in the area. Nearly one out of three guns The Post traced to Maryland dealers came from Realco. The rest were spread among other shops across the state.”

    • Doc Rader

      Quite possible. I *would* like to think that the BATFE has a solid trace from point of manufacture to point of crime and will qualify those numbers based on evidence that the weapons moved illegally but they do put a disclaimer in their posting (you can see it on page 2 of NM’s data:

      • Anonymoose

        What exactly do you mean by “moved illegally?” Only NFA weapons can be moved illegally, unless you’re moving to a place with an AWB.

        • Doc Rader

          Or you buy a weapon in one state and sell it to someone in another state. Obviously you can move from state to state, but any sort of “transfer” does, in fact, have rules. I edited my comment to say “transferred” for clarity.

      • Don Ward

        And there’s the bit where not every firearm traced was used in the commission of a crime. So that no doubt shifts the numbers a skosh.

  • G0rdon_Fr33man

    Are any gun really registered though? I mean, criminal background check, then out the door you go… The federal or state government don´t have your identity and gun serial on hand do they? (I know, different states different regs, but assume most “free” one)

    • zardoz711

      Is it that hard to under stand?
      Say X number of firearms are found in a drug bust, the BATF will take the serial numbers from those guns (if they have them) and ask the manufacturer where they were first transferred and then follow the trail to the last FFL holder who transfered it to an individual. (And as you’ll remember, FFL holders are required to keep their records for a very long time and surrender them to the BATF whenever they command)

      If all of those guns were sold by the same FFL or FFLs in the same area (possibly to the same person or groups of people) it shows where the guns left the world of legal ownership.

      This of course assumes that there weren’t any person to person transfers not requiring 4473s or NICS checks along the way but the government really has as much time and money to throw around to make a case against whomever they wish.

      • G0rdon_Fr33man

        I´m not a US citizen, so yes, some of this is not that clear-cut to me. But thanks a lot for the information.

    • Sulaco

      If you do the federal background in any state then the gun is “registered” make/model/caliber and serial to the purchaser at point of sale. While the “law” states the fed can not keep sales records, ATF can check for sales info for decades.

    • n0truscotsman

      I dont think so.

      I suppose ‘registration’ could mean metadeta, although the party searching through that would have to expend a considerable quantity of manpower, resources, and time to ‘find’ what they are looking for. That is assuming they could obtain the legal justifications for doing so.

  • hydepark

    Wow. News Alert? TFB agrees that registering your firearms and doing no private firearm sales (evil black market) is a good thing? I’d like to say I never thought I’d see the day, but I’d be lying. Next they’ll have articles and comments about how it’s a good thing machine guns are so expensive because not every law-abiding citizen should have access to them. Oh wait, that already happened.

    • Don Ward

      I don’t think that’s what the author Tom ARRRR!!! is saying at all.

      • hydepark

        “Guns ending up on the “black market” is generally bad for everyone. These are typically used in crimes…”

        It’s exactly what he’s saying if by “black market” he means guns that are transferred from one person to another without a background check.

        • Dan

          Easy killer, private sales between two law abiding citizens is not the black market he speaks of.

        • nadnerbus

          I like this definition of Black Market: “any system in which goods or currencies are sold and bought illegally, esp in violation of controls or rationing.”

          Private sales are not illegal, or subject to controls or rationing, at least at this point, so they are not part of a black market. The sale and trafficking in stolen guns is illegal, so… Black Market.

        • Doc Rader

          Nope not what the intent was at all.

          No. If they could trace back that it had been illegally purchased in another state from last record of sale. Obviously a gray area. E.g. If you bought a gun in TX for $100 then drove it to NY to sell it because you know you could get $500 for it, that is a no no. If you sold it to another resident of TX and they drove it up and sold it, you would technically be clear. If it was stolen and you reported it such you would be clear.

          But the tracing would follow from point of manufacture to point of crime. So if you do a private sale it would be worthwhile to have some kind of receipt.

          • hydepark

            How do those boots taste, Doc? A friend and I were discussing a similar point over some sushi the other day when we simultaneously realized we had just come to the exact same conclusion (maybe we knew it all along, but had a moment of clarity is a better way to put it). People (read: law abiding citizens) in New York have the exact same natural, civil, and Constitutionally protected rights as anyone else. Yet you’re so willing to (intentionally or not) play into the anti’s hands. It’s a no-no because you’ve been conditioned to forget the rule of law and equal protection under it. I used to be kinda Libertarian. Until I realized what Libertarian actually meant. Now I’m full-blown and I try to point out idiocy and propaganda and such when I see it. Have nice day.

        • Doc Rader

          And I say generally, because if a gun makes it way to a criminal via a bad sales funnel and is thus used in a crime, well I think that is bad for everyone.

          While still illegal I would be less likely to condone, say, a mom buying a gun for protection from an “unlicensed dealer” in a state where she couldn’t due to whatever controls (e.g.

        • Doom

          wouldnt guns transferred between non criminals without a BG check just be the “grey market”? since the guns are not in the possession of a criminal, or being sold to a criminal? When I think black market I think of something illegally possessed. Like Drugs or a stolen gun, or anything stolen really.

    • Anonymoose

      A lot of people do not want to see machineguns become easily available again because they have used them as investments. There’s no comparable market segment I can think of, since most things (precious metals, gemstones, fancy cars, art) cannot be cheaply obtained because of natural circumstances, but the price of machineguns is artificially high, so those who own a bunch of M16s, M60s, and original AK47s, etc have a vested interest in keeping them out of the hands of the plebs.

      • hydepark

        Exactly. Your point was pretty well demonstrated when Alex popped in some months back got into a discussion with the readers here over that same issue. I couldn’t care less that getting my rights back would devalue a small number of mostly worn out, tattered, and outdated guns. I’ll be the happiest man on Earth when Alex’s collection of MGs goes from being worth hundreds of thousands to basically nothing.

      • Doom

        Oh the humanity! People spent tens of thousands of dollars on something not worth tens of thousands of dollars? Id give up thousands of dollars worth of my guns to let everyone have the right to own Machine guns because im not a selfish fool.

  • Old Gringo

    Really not a scientifically valid article, let me tell you why. First, there is no “registration” in New Mexico. Does he mean, concealled carry permits? Does he mean guns sold based on background checks? No clue what he means. Next, if he lives in NM he knows there are probably 10 times more guns than $84K in this state. Lastly, he poses nothing to quantify a gun used in a crime. These are guns recovered from a crime scene right? I had 3 guns stolen once, an they were all recovered from a bad guy at a crime scene,…the place where he illegally kept them..they were never really on the black market just stolen….now does he mean just illegally possessing a gun or does he mean a gun used in violence?
    This article is really not worthy of the firearm blog without more data….Now not trying to be rude, just pointing out some isssues, I have been studying crime stats for 4 decades and really appreciate good reporting, please tell me where I am wrong….my experience includes local, military state and federal law enforcement so this is not my first exposure….JD/MBA/MA.

    • Doc Rader

      The base movement trafficking data comes from the BATFE.

      Valid point about the language regarding “registration”. I’m guessing these would be NICS checks (which could include multiples) and this was just a citation from the Business Insider article.

    • Otm Shooter

      There is no definite way to quantify the number of guns used in crimes. But, if these guns were recovered from crime scenes, then they are guns linked to criminal activity. The feds can spins things how they see fit. As far as the “black market” issue; if the guns are stolen, they are illegal. If the guns are in the hands of prohibited persons, they are illegal. If the guns are used to commit crimes, they are illegal. I don’t think that “black market” is the best term because it seems that the BATFE is referring to the illegal nature of the guns in question being moved around and not necessarily the commerce of the illegal guns between states. The BATFE does not have to produce anything scientifically valid.

      And yes, 84K guns (not $84K) seems drastically low.

      • Doc Rader

        The correction factor would be if the number of guns that were used in commission of a crime which was committed by a legally recognized purchaser was eliminated from the data.

        The “black market” would have to be controlled (in terms of data) for an “illegal” purchase of said gun.

    • Mikial

      I had the same thought. I keep seeing these articles about how many “legally registered” guns there in this state or that state where there is no gun registration law. So, what are the authors referring to and where are they getting these numbers? The only thing I can figure is that they are simply using sales figures for how many guns were sold by licensed dealers. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

  • PK

    “84,471 legally registered firearms for a population of 2,085,287”

    Is the first number in error? It seems exceptionally low. If that makes NM the fourth most armed state, what accounts for the 300+ million firearms in civilian hands in the USA, or are those only estimates as title one transfers aren’t registered? If, on the other hand, NM has about 85k title two items, color me impressed. If they are title one firearms being referenced, why are any registered at all?

    • Doc Rader

      Just citing what was in the Business Insider article. It does seem low-ish, but that was also 2014 data. I’m guessing it was total number of NICS checks (which could actually have multiple purchases on a check).

      • PK

        According to the FBI data, NM had 139,780 NICS checks in 2014. I think the number cited, 84,471, is simply in error.

  • nova3930

    Where’s the big (*&#$# line from ATF HQ to Mexico?

  • evlgreg

    The 84k figure is ATF registered class 3 items only. Same flawed data CBS tried to use to say florida had 199k guns ( with 1.4M ccw holders) i added the numbers and looked at the data and the “ownership” figures cited are off by a factor of almost 100, so more like 8.4 million guns in NM.

    • evlgreg

      When CBS published the top 30 most heavily armed states, the total number of guns registered was around 2.5 million for 30 states combined. Since the best real estimates put title 1 guns at around 400 million, I called BS loud and long. Bad data = bad analysis

  • Anthony “stalker6recon”

    Why don’t they do something useful instead. How about creating a map of the nation, with a rating system for each county that shows their restriction level for legal gun ownership. Example, gun friendly counties like Cobb County, Georgia receive a 1, more strick counties like Cook County, Illinois receive a 10.

    Then calculate the number of homicides per county and give a final rating showing the effect of legal Vs illegal gun ownership. Throw away the per capita statistic, it only clouds the issue, use straight homicide per year instead. I want to know how safe places like shitcago, Oakland and Washington DC are, when compared to places like Kennesaw, Georgia.