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Publication Source and Use of Firearms Involved in Crimes: Survey of Prison Inmates, 2016

Mariel Alper, Ph.D., Lauren Glaze, BJS Statisticians

January 9, 2019    NCJ 251776

Presents statistics that describe firearm possession of state and federal prisoners who were serving a sentence in 2016. The report describes firearm possession during the crime for which prisoners were serving time and by type of offense; how the firearm was used during the crime; type of firearm possessed; and methods, sources, and processes of obtaining the firearm. Findings are based on BJS's 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates (SPI), formerly known as the Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities. The SPI self-report data were collected through face-to-face interviews with a national sample of state and federal prisoners. For more information on the 2016 SPI methodology, see Methodology: Survey of Prison Inmates, 2016 (NCJ 252210).


  • About 21% of state and 20% of federal prisoners said they possessed a gun during their offense, while 79% of state and 80% of federal prisoners did not.
  • About 29% of state and 36% of federal prisoners serving time for a violent offense possessed a gun during the offense.
  • About 1.3% of prisoners obtained a gun from a retail source and used it during their offense.
  • Handguns were the most common type of firearm possessed by state and federal prisoners (18% each); 11% of all prisoners used a handgun.
  • Among prisoners who possessed a gun during their offense, 90% did not obtain it from a retail source.

Summary (PDF 222K)
Full report (PDF 431K)
Data tables (Zip format 7K)

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Survey of Prison Inmates (SPI)

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