Gun theft is an important source of guns used by criminals. Yet no empirical work has focused on the characteristics of gun owners that distinguish those who have had their guns stolen from those who have not. In this study, we examine the demographics and behavioral characteristics of gun owners who report having had a gun stolen.
Data come from a nationally representative probability-based online survey conducted in April 2015, with a linked follow-up survey in November 2015 that asked gun owners about any theft of their guns in the past 5 years.
Of 1,604 gun-owning respondents, 2.4% (95% CI 1.6,3.6) reported that one or more guns had been stolen, with a mean number of guns stolen per theft of 1.5 (95% CI 1.0,2.0]. Risk factors for having a gun stolen were owning 6 or more guns, owning guns for protection, carrying a gun in the past month, storing guns unsafely, and living in the South region of the United States. The South accounts for 37% of US households, 43% of gun owners, and two-thirds of all gun thefts.
We estimate that there are approximately 250,000 gun theft incidents per year, with about 380,000 guns stolen. We find that certain types of gun owners-who own many guns, who carry guns, and who do not store guns safely-are at higher risk to have their guns stolen. Tracing data show that states in the South are exporters of crime guns used in other states. Our survey results find that the majority of guns stolen in the US come from the South.