Skip to Main Content

NEW ATF REPORT: Nearly 230,000 Guns Were Trafficked over Five Years

More must be done to address this growing problem, including passing background checks on all gun sales and finalizing ATF’s Engaged in the Business rule. 

Washington DC — Today, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) released the third in a series of reports on gun trafficking. The report found that nearly 230,000 guns were trafficked in more than 7,700 cases from 2017-2021 and that unlicensed sellers are now the largest source (41%) of the majority of trafficked firearms, rather than licensed gun dealers. In order to slow down the trafficking of firearms, GIFFORDS is urging ATF to finalize its rule that clarifies the definition of who is considered “engaged in the business” of selling firearms and therefore subject to the legal requirements of a licensed gun dealer. Additionally, Congress should pass background checks on all gun sales. ATF’s new report shows about 60% of the end users of trafficked firearms had at least one prior felony conviction. Had they gone through a background check as required by licensed firearms dealers, they would never have been able to acquire those weapons and Americans would be safer.

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) made gun trafficking a federal crime, giving ATF new tools to better prosecute this growing problem. Just last week the Department of Justice (DOJ) charged five men in Texas for gun trafficking and straw purchasing under the BSCA.

Lindsay Nichols, Policy Director, GIFFORDS Law Center 

“Gun trafficking is an enormous problem in the United States that threatens our nation’s safety. For 20 years we had no data on this growing problem, but thanks to ATF Director Dettelbach and the Biden administration, we are finally making progress and finding solutions. We applaud ATF’s efforts to highlight the nature of this problem so that policymakers and law enforcement across the country can take effective action to target the sources of illegal guns that are destroying their communities.

“With the enactment of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, law enforcement officials now have the tools that they need to prosecute traffickers and deter further trafficking from occurring.”

Three years ago, GIFFORDS called on the Biden administration and ATF to release such a report, amongst other recommendations to comprehensively address gun violence. ATF released the first report in May 2022, following a 20-year hiatus from publicly sharing data.  

Additional highlights from the report include:

  • Machine gun conversion devices (including Glock switches and auto sears) represented more than half of the illegal firearms recovered in ATF’s investigations.
  • Approximately 32% (2,358 of 7,350) of firearm trafficking cases involved interstate trafficking, which is less than the approximately 44% of cases identified by the 2000 report and shows the need for state policymakers to address gun trafficking occurring within their states.
  • Approximately 20% (1,503 of 7,350) of firearm trafficking cases involved international firearm trafficking.
  • Handguns and rifles accounted for the highest percentage of firearms trafficked with nearly 56% of the firearms trafficked being handguns and nearly 19% of the firearms being rifles. 


Our experts can speak to the full spectrum of gun violence prevention issues. Have a question? Email us at