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Firearms Trafficking 101 or Where Do Crime Guns Come From?

NCJ Number
USA Bulletin Volume: 50 Issue: 1 Dated: January 2002 Pages: 6-10
Mark Kraft
Date Published
January 2002
5 pages
This article describes the various ways in which firearms are illegally obtained by persons for the purpose of committing crimes.
The use of a "straw" purchaser is one of the most frequent methods used to divert firearms out of lawful commerce ("firearms trafficking"), where they are strictly regulated, and into an illegal market where they are available to anyone. In a "straw" purchase, a convicted felon, who cannot lawfully obtain a firearm, will convince someone who can qualify for a lawful purchase to make the purchase for them. Frequently firearms traffickers will travel from a market area to a source area and recruit a network of "straw" purchasers who are residents of that State and who need a few extra dollars. When interviewed by law enforcement officers, "straw" purchasers have none of the weapons that they purchased legally, and they usually know nothing about the weapons they bought. Another popular scheme used by gun traffickers involves the use of false or fictitious identification to purchase a firearm from a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL). In a typical "lying and buying" case, a trafficker might travel from British Columbia (Canada) to Texas, obtain a Texas driver's license with a fictitious name and nonexistent address, and then use it to buy guns. When police in Canada recover the firearms, they will be traced to a nonexistent person with a false address. Another source of guns for crimes is corrupt FFL's. Because FFL's are in the business of buying, receiving, and selling firearms, they can often camouflage their trafficking activities. Such illegal trafficking can usually be detected by determining that a corrupt FFL's records of purchases do not match the records of suppliers. Stolen firearms constitute another major source of guns for crimes. Deterrence of firearms trafficking involves the persistent investigation of the sources of firearms used in crimes and the prosecution and severe sentencing of traffickers.