In 2016, amid a historic spike in homicides, the Crime Lab conducted a comprehensive study of the origins of illegal firearms. The study was based on a survey of 221 Chicago residents who had recently spent time in the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) on gun-related charges. The questions posed to survey respondents asked how respondents acquired guns, their reasoning for wanting to acquire a gun, and the ease with which they were able to acquire a gun. The research team also analyzed the survey respondents’ prior exposure to violence and interactions with the criminal justice system to understand illegal gun circulation in neighborhoods better.
Most survey respondents had acquired their firearms through purchase or trade (48%), with the majority of those firearms being acquired illegally through family, friends, or acquaintances. Of those who had been the victims of gun violence, 39% knew the identity of their shooter. In comparison, only 12% were willing to talk with police due to fear of their own arrest because of outstanding warrants, neighborhood/gang social norms, or mistrust of police officers more generally.