In a recent article discussing how many firearms are lost or destroyed each year, one of the commenters suggested that loss through theft, recovery and subsequent destruction by police, could be a significant number. At TTAG, JSF001 speculated:
You forgot to include firearms seized by police as evidence and then destroyed. I would guess that 80% of all firearms that are stolen wind up being destroyed within 10-20 years.
There are a couple of fairly good sources of data for the numbers of firearms stolen.
The first is the National Crime Information Center, or NCIC. The FBI started the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) in 1967. The NCIC maintains a list of stolen firearms that are reported to it from a variety of sources, primarily from other criminal justice agencies. From FAS.org:
SOURCES OF DATA: Data contained in NCIC is provided by the FBI, federal, state, local and foreign criminal justice agencies, and authorized courts.
The numbers recorded in the NCIC system represent a minimum of the firearms that are stolen in the United States. Some guns are stolen but not reported to the police, some owners have not recorded or remember serial numbers, tens of millions of guns have been manufactured before serial numbers were required, and unknown numbers of firearms are made at home or in small workshops.
A study done by the Bureau of Justice statistics ( BJS) shows a fairly reasonable approximation to the NCIC numbers, using the National Crime Victimization Study. Their study shows 145 thousand victimizations involving the theft of a firearm in 2010.
As more than one firearm is averaged for each theft, the study notes that an average of 232,000 guns were stolen in each year from 2005 to 2010. This is consistent with the NCIC numbers.
If we use the higher numbers from the BJS study for the numbers of firearms stolen, we should have a decent estimate of the percent of firearms stolen each year. The approximate number of the private firearm stock in the United States from 2005 to 2010 are:
- 2005 289 million,
- 2006 295 million
- 2007 301 million
- 2008 308 million
- 2009 316 million
- 2010 325 million
The average number for those years is 305.7 million. The average number of guns reported stolen by the BJS study, is .076 percent. We do not know how many of these guns are destroyed.
Some guns are recovered and returned to their owners. Most others never enter police hands; their theft results in them being sold to someone else. In many states, guns confiscated or otherwise obtained by the police, are sold to dealers or the public, so as to benefit the public treasury.
Texas, which reports 10% of all stolen guns in the United States each year, recently reformed their law to allow law enforcement to sell guns that are not returned to the owners.
There is a legislative movement to require that guns that end up in police custody be sold to dealers rather than destroyed.
The number of guns destroyed out of the total number stolen each year, is likely a small fraction.
It is hard to believe that it is as high as 10 percent of the number stolen per year. If we apply that figure to the entire firearms stock from 1945 to 2013, it amounts to 866,000 firearms, well less than a million.
The increase in private firearms in the U.S in 2013 was 16 million. In 2013, the entire reduction due to theft and subsequent destruction, over 68 years, would have been replaced in less than 20 days.
Assuming, for the sake of argument, that 30% of stolen guns are destroyed every year, that number, over 68 years, would have been replaced in 2013 in two months.
About Dean Weingarten:
Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of constitutional carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and recently retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.
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