A huge way those legally purchased firearms get into the hands of criminals is through theft, the ATF said. In five years, there were more than 1 million firearms stolen from private citizens and reported to authorities.
There’s a caveat here, however. Federal law doesn’t require individual gun owners to report the loss or theft of their firearms to the police. And while local laws vary, it also isn’t a requirement in many states to report a stolen gun, either — so the number of gun thefts could be much higher.
Regardless, Nichols, with Giffords, called this number “horrifying.”
“It shows that we really have a serious problem with guns that are not being stored safely in order to prevent this,” she said.
Research done in recent years has emphasized the importance of safely storing guns.
Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for gun control, reports that “households that locked both firearms and ammunition were associated with a 78 percent lower risk of self-inflicted firearm injuries and an 85 percent lower risk of unintentional firearm injuries among children and teens, compared to those that locked neither.”
But state laws vary widely on mandates for secure storage.
This new data from the ATF can further educate policymakers on the need for regulations mandating safe storage, Nichols said.
Roughly 4.6 million children live in a home with loaded and unlocked firearms, studies have shown.
And over 80% of mass shooters at K-12 schools stole guns from family members, according to research funded by the National Institute of Justice (a program of the U.S. Justice Department) that examined mass shootings that took place from 1966 to 2019.