Professor of Public Policy, Economics and Sociology, Duke University
- Thefts make up only about 1% of all gun transactions nationwide.
- Original data from Chicago demonstrates that less than 3% of guns recovered by the police after an arrest have been reported stolen.
- Surveys of convicted criminals, both nationally and in Chicago, suggest that it is rare for respondents to have stolen the gun used in their most recent crime.
In the article, “Gun Theft and Crime,” Cook challenges the conventional narrative espoused by scholars, the media, and the police that gun theft is a significant source of supply of weapons to gangs and other violent criminals. Analyzing detailed data on gun thefts in Chicago complied by the University of Chicago Crime Lab, Cook finds that 2.8% of guns used in a crime had at some point been reported stolen in Chicago. Cook also analyzed inmate survey data collected by the Department of Justice and finds that only a small fraction of respondents who were typical of violent gun offenders—males aged 18–40 who admitted to having a gun at the time of their arrest— indicated that their most recent gun had been obtained by theft: 4% of the prison and jail inmates, and just 1% of the federal prisoners. Cook concludes by considering policy options and technological solutions that might further reduce the small fraction of gun thefts that contribute to crime, such as stronger security requirements for dealers, tracking devices and “smart guns” that can only be fired by their owners.