Tracking the Sale and Spread of Illegal Guns in the US

Research Team

Project Overview

Leveraging an innovative partnership with online payment company PayPal, in 2020 the CJP formed of a research collaborative designed to better understand illegal firearm trafficking and financing in the United States. Partners in this effort include the University of Chicago Crime Lab, the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis and former ATF agents.

The research collaborative, with funding support from PayPal, is designed to generate actionable insights and guide efforts to better address firearm transfers that are violating existing laws and to stop the flow of guns into criminal networks through legal grey-areas.

CJP Director Anthony Braga noted, “The United States has a significant problem with illegal acquisition of guns by individuals at elevated risk of becoming involved with gun violence. It is these guns that end up in the wrong hands that lead to serious violence. Through this cutting-edge research enterprise, we hope advance innovative collaborations between law enforcement and private industry to understand the evolving landscape and to generate actionable solutions.”

Over the course of the project, the research team will be examining illegal transfer of firearms over the internet and the financing of illegal gun transactions through new mobile payment services, cryptocurrency, and other online payment systems. The research team will also examine emergent illegal gun market problems such as the rapid diffusion of privately-made firearms, popularly referenced as “ghost guns”, throughout the United States.

In partnership with ATF, we are hopeful that our research will develop new policy-relevant insights on criminal access to firearms that will be useful to a range of audiences such as mayors, legislators, law enforcement personnel, and community members.