Criminals and the Firearms they Carry

Here at Modern Rifleman, I often discuss crime statistics and figures related to gun control in effort to highlight the futile reality of most gun control efforts. An overwhelming majority of the time, the sort of data that is out there in various studies and reports can best be described as “macrodata” in that most studies focus on larger trends in crime and not necessarily the details of each incident. Such efforts, while useful, give us little insight into individual criminal actions and the tools used by perpetrators to carry out their nefarious deeds. Partly because of these uncertainties, anti-gun groups have pushed a narrative that criminals make extensive use of “assault weapons” and cheap handguns (“Saturday night specials”) among other buzzwords to commit insidious acts against people everywhere. A 2012 study that was recently brought to my attention may help to invalidate some of this sensationalism.

In October of 2012, Ohio’s largest firearms safety and advocacy group, Buckeye Firearms Association, posted an article titled Criminals and the Guns they Carry written by police training officer, Greg Ellifritz. In the piece, Ellifritz discussed the contents of his agency’s database of firearms collected from crime scenes and perpetrators over the past several years. The collection, totaling 85 weapons, was quite a mishmash of assorted firepower, but some common preferences among society’s low-lifes could be observed.

The first and least surprising of these trends is that criminals overwhelmingly prefer handguns or revolvers to any other class of firearm. 67 (79%) of the 85 seized weapons were handguns. Among these, 26 were chambered in 9mm, 9 were in .22 LR, and 17 fired calibers that most would consider poorly suited for social work (below .380). While cheap handguns from companies like Lorcin, Jennings, and Hi-Point were well represented, so were pricier options from Beretta, Glock, and Smith & Wesson.

Rifles and shotguns were represented in far lower numbers. 11 of the 85 firearms listed were rifles. 7 of which were semi-automatic with the remainder being bolt-action. Among the 7 shotguns seized, 4 were pump action and 3 were single-shot or double barrel scatterguns. Semi-automatic long arms made up less than 10 percent of collected firearms.

Perhaps the most telling part of Ellifritz’s assessment was the abundance of non-functional, damaged, or unloaded firearms collected by the agency. 26 of the 85 guns either did not work at all or could not fire more than 3 rounds without malfunction. Most of these issues were attributed to missing or wrong magazines. An equal number of firearms (26) were unloaded or loaded with the wrong ammunition.

While we can all read this and feel better because most criminals truly are idiots, it would be a mistake to be overly confident in this fact. Even with a surprising number of non-functional or underpowered firearms among the sample, the majority of the weapons were still very usable and all of the functional pieces could be used for lethal means. Instead, we should look at this as an opportunity to learn from a rare glimpse into the habits of dangerous criminals and ponder how each of these data points might affect our decisions in terms of firearm carry, gun storage, and firearm/ammunition selection.

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