Study claims gun theft from automobiles skyrocketed alongside sales

A study conducted by Everytown Research and Policy published Monday finds that unsecured firearms stolen from unattended automobiles represent the largest source of stolen guns in the nation.

The non-profit firm collected data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) across 271 cities of every size spanning 38 states. In all, 49 million people were represented in the findings.

The results found that in 2020, approximately 77,000 guns were reported stolen from the sample cities alone, which is likely a lean number since only 15 states require citizens to report the theft or loss of a firearm.

While some thefts can be attributed to burglaries, robbery and even pickpocketing, more than 50 percent of guns stolen were taken from automobiles. Averaging that out, a gun is stolen from a car every 15 minutes, accounting for 40,000 of the 77,000 stolen guns reported from the 271 cities named in the report.

The FBI’s Crime Data Explorer shows a significant increase from 2010 when only 24 percent of gun thefts were from automobiles.

(Source: Everytown for Gun Safety analysis)

However, the report does not reveal much about the impetus for such a rise in gun thefts from automobiles. For instance, the increase does not appear to have any correlation to thefts of any other belongings from an automobile – which have decreased 15 percent over the past 10 years – while gun thefts specifically have risen an astounding 225 percent over the same period of time, the report showed.

Cities that report to the FBI in these matters also show no evidence that cars parked in more “dangerous” locations are not more likely to be burglarized. Rather, 41 percent of the guns taken from vehicles occurred while the vehicle was parked at a residence, be it the gun owner’s or another’s home.

(Source: Everytown for Gun Safety analysis)


In cities with high rates of legal gun ownership, thefts of such guns are more common, which also seems to demonstrate a lack of diligence among large swaths of gun owners who live in cities where they have more freedom to transport firearms away from the home.

The five cities with the highest rate of gun thefts from automobiles per 100,000 people are as follows:

Memphis, TN  – 193.6

Chattanooga, TN – 193.1

Columbia, SC – 172.6

North Charleston, SC – 165.0

Warner Robins, GA – 162.9

While gun thefts have increased during the greater part of the last decade, a major spike occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic beginning in 2020, commensurate with a sharp rise in gun purchases overall but perhaps not accompanied by the appropriate amount of training.

Citing data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) the report noted:

“In the decade prior to the pandemic, an average of 13.5 million guns were sold annually, but in 2020, this number jumped to 22 million. Guns more quickly showed up at crime scenes as well. In 2020, 306,135 guns were recovered and traced by law enforcement, and the number of these that were purchased within the last three months nearly doubled.”

“Similarly, an average of 13,110 people died by gun homicide each year in the decade pre-pandemic, but this number spiked to 19,995 in 2020,” the report stated.

The authors of the report unsurprisingly recommend that states adopt more stringent laws for the securing and storage of firearms.

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