Shorter 'time-to-crime' for guns used in crimes in Chicago than in New York, Los Angeles: DOJ

Chicago’s "time-to-crime" — the period between the purchase of a gun and its recovery by the police in a crime — was far shorter than in New York or Los Angeles, according to a new government report on a measure the Justice Department said is an indicator of illegal trafficking.

The new report by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives provides a detailed look at guns that were recovered after being used in the commission of crimes and investigated to determine their original owners.

Chicago’s median time-to-crime was 2.8 years compared with 6.3 years in New York and 4.2 years in Los Angeles, according to the report.

"Shorter time-to-crime periods are indicators of illegal trafficking and provide crucial intelligence to investigators," the Justice Department said of the ATF findings.

According to Tess Fardon of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a median time-to-crime under three years is considered an indicator of weapons trafficking.

Fardon wants Illinois officials to conduct regular inspections of gun dealers, which a 2019 state licensing law allows, to help ensure that they aren’t turning a blind eye to any that might be engaged in illegal trafficking.


According to the ATF report, Chicago leads every other city in America in the number of guns that the agency has traced to determine the original owner. There were traces on more than 50,000 guns Chicago police officers recovered from 2017 to 2021, about 31,000 traces in Los Angeles and 19,000 in New York.

A key reason for that, experts say, is that the Chicago Police Department for years has been a national leader in asking the ATF to investigate the origins of every recovered gun. Chicago’s large number of gun traces also correlates with the far higher number of fatal and nonlethal shootings in the city.

A University of Chicago study has noted that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Chicago police officers made fewer street stops and traffic stops in 2021 than they did in 2020, but the number of illegal guns they recovered went up. According to the researchers, that indicates gun carrying rose during the pandemic — which might also explain some of the disparity between Chicago’s higher gun-trace numbers than found elsewhere.

The ATF report shows 9mm pistols — manufactured by Glock, Taurus and Smith & Wesson — were the firearms most often traced in Chicago. That also was true in other big cities.

One concern is that Glocks and other handguns are easily converted into automatic weapons with illegal switches — easy-to-obtain devices to turn semi-automatic pistols into easy to conceal machine guns — which have proliferated in Chicago and elsewhere in recent years.

In Chicago, most of the traced guns, about 16,500 of them, were bought from somewhere within Illinois, with about 8,200 more coming from Indiana. Wisconsin, Kentucky and Mississippi each was the source of fewer than 2,000 guns.

By contrast, few guns recovered in crimes in New York were originally purchased there. The biggest sources for those guns were Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia.

Brandon del Pozo, a Brown University researcher, notes that New York and the states that surround it all have stringent gun laws.

The "iron pipeline" — the route criminals must travel to buy guns easily — is extremely long for New Yorkers, who often go to Southern states to obtain them, del Pozo says.

"In Chicago, you are never more than a few hours away to get a gun or go to a place with lax laws regarding guns," he says.

The ATF gun report was the result of the agency’s first comprehensive study of criminal gun-trafficking in two decades, according to the Justice Department.

Among the national issues the report highlighted, theft is a significant way that guns get into criminals’ hands. From 2017 to 2021, more than one million guns were stolen from private owners across the country, the report said.

The report also said the recovery of switches rose 570% over the same period.