Justice Department, ATF Assessment Details Alarming Rise in Privately Made Firearms
WASHINGTON — The first in a series of national firearm commerce and trafficking assessments was published this week after Attorney General Merrick Garland commissioned the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to conduct the study last year.
The first volume of the report covers a wide swath of issues involving firearm proliferation and sales, including licensed manufacturing, importation and exportation, selling and distributing, regulatory activities, federal compliance inspections, and ATF classifications among others. The ATF’s assessments in the report were generated by subject experts employed by the bureau as well as academics and related field experts.
While ATF issues many public and law enforcement reports and bulletins on firearm commerce, trafficking, and related issues each year, the bureau has not conducted a joint academic study of this report’s scale in more than 20 years. The assessment sheds light on a number of commerce trends related to firearms in the United States, including a 187% increase in domestic manufacturing between 2000 and 2020.
Additionally, exports by U.S. manufacturers rose by 240% and gun imports rose by 350% in the same time span. Short-barrel rifle manufacturing, which refers to shoulder-fired guns with barrels less than 16 inches in length, increased by a staggering 24,080% between 2000 and 2020.
In April, The Well News reported the DOJ, at the direction of the Biden administration, updated the regulatory definitions for firearms. The new rule clarifies that background checks are required for buy-build-shoot firearms kits that are sold commercially and do not require a license for personal use, adding privately made firearms under the regulatory umbrella of the department.
“One of the most significant developments affecting lawful firearm commerce and law enforcement’s ability to reduce illegal access to guns in this period has been the proliferation of privately made firearms,” the text of the report read.
“Since the early 2000s, advances in firearm manufacturing and design, combined with the readily online availability of parts and information necessary to assemble PMFs have made it easier for unlicensed persons to make a firearm at home without any records or a background check.”
Because PMFs lack typical identifying markings or recordkeeping requirements, law enforcement officials have a tough time tracking just how many are being made and distributed for commerce. Data collected by federal officials for the report illustrates the enormous scale of PMF proliferation within the last half-decade.
The number of suspected PMFs recovered by police and tracked by ATF surged by 1000% between 2016 and 2021, according to the report’s findings. Just under 26,000 suspected PMFs were recovered in crimes and traced by law enforcement between 2016 and 2020, over 19,000 of which were recovered between 2020 and 2021 alone.
To help rectify this, ATF recommended increasing its staff that conducts training for law enforcement on the identification, use of standardized terminology, definitions and tracing of PMFs. Further, the bureau recommends reviewing all of its case and data management systems to ensure data fields are added to properly track the various types of recovered PMFs.
The U.S. ranked eighth in the top 64 high-income countries and territories for firearms homicides last year, according to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. A 2018 study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association found that firearm-related injuries occur more frequently in places where access to firearms is prevalent.
“We can only address the current rise in violence if we have the best available information and use the most effective tools and research to fuel our efforts,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a written statement accompanying the report.
“This report is an important step in that direction. The department will continue to gather the data necessary to tailor our approach [to] the most significant drivers of gun violence and take shooters off the streets.”
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