Firearm sales have surged in the United States in recent years. Based on FBI background check data, a proxy for sales, Americans bought an estimated 39.7 million firearms in 2020, a record high. Though gun sales dipped slightly the following year, to about 38.9 million, 2021 was still the second biggest year for gun sales in the United States.
Historic firearm sales figures have coincided with rising rates of gun violence. Active shooter incidents spiked by over 50% from 2020 to 2021, and the number of violent crimes involving firearms increased by more than 30% over the same period, according to the FBI.
While the vast majority of civilian-owned firearms in the U.S. are used for legitimate purposes, including target shooting, collecting, hunting, and home defense, every firearm is a lethal weapon which, in the wrong hands, can be used unlawfully, including to kill or coerce. And certain types of guns are far more likely to be used by criminals than others. (Here is a look at the city in each state with the most gun-related crimes.)
Using gun tracing data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, 24/7 Wall St. identified the firearm calibers most commonly used in crime in 2021. Our list includes rifle, handgun, and shotgun calibers and gauges.
Guns that are traced by the ATF are typically those found at crime scenes and are either have been used, or are suspected to have been used, to commit a crime. Though it is important to note that not all firearms used in a crime are traced.
All told, the ATF traced over 450,000 firearms nationwide in 2021, up 16% from about 390,000 in 2020. The vast majority of these firearms are chambered for rounds typically used by handguns, which are relatively easy to conceal. The handgun calibers on this list include .25, .32, and .380 – chambers commonly found in small, cheap firearms that have historically been widely available on the black market.
Other firearm types and chamberings that rank highly on this list include those that are widely popular with law-abiding gun enthusiasts and sports women and men, such as .22, a popular caliber for both rifles and pistols, 12 gauge shotguns, .40 caliber handguns and 9mm handguns. (Here is a look at the 14 most versatile rifle cartridges for hunting.)
Click here to see the firearm calibers used the most to commit crimes in the US.
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