Interviews with active criminals and inmates indicate that only a small percentage who have had guns get them from licensed dealers. Rather, it seems that most acquire their guns by way of a willing third party; a straw purchaser; a trafficker, a friend or relative; or an unwilling one, that is, by theft. Knowing how big a role theft plays in gun acquisition has implications for how much effort law enforcement (ATF, local and state police) should place on theft prevention as opposed to impeding the illicit market. The FBI keeps a database of all guns reported stolen and it seems to capture a remarkably high percentage upwards of 75%–of all of the roughly 240,000 guns stolen from homes each year (according to the National Crime Victims Survey) and the 6,000 reported stolen from licensed dealers.
By searching the FBI theft database for serial numbers of crime guns that were confiscated by police in a given city and traced (trace database), the researchers can get a handle on the magnitude of gun theft as a source of guns used in crime.