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Number of guns made in the U.S. nearly tripled since 2000

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As gun-related deaths in America reach new highs, a new government report shows that the number of firearms made in the U.S. has increased exponentially over the last two decades.

Domestic gun makers produced 11.3 million firearms in 2020 (the latest year for which data is available), roughly triple the 3.9 million that were made in 2000, according to a report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Over that span, a time when the U.S. population increased 18%, the number of firearms churned out every year jumped 250%. 

As part of that trend, the use of so-called ghost guns — firearms manufactured privately that are often hard to trace — also has ballooned, the ATF also found.

The report is part of an effort by the Biden administration to crack down on gun violence. The White House issued a series of directives last year to curb the epidemic of shootings, which the government dubbed a public health epidemic. A record number of Americans died of gun-related injuries in 2020, according to the Pew Research Center.

The ATF's findings come a week after two mass shootings on opposite sides of the country. On Saturday, a gunman opened fire in a Buffalo, New York supermarket, killing 10 people and injuring three. The following day, a gunman killed one person and wounded six at a church in Laguna Woods, California.

"At no point since 2011 has there been a year where less than 6,731,958 firearms were manufactured for domestic consumption," the report found.

In the 20-year period the ATF focused on, the most popular gun type in the U.S. shifted. Prior to 2009, rifles were the dominant firearm, according to the report. Starting in 2010 and nearly every year after, pistols became the most poplar.

Do-it-yourself gun making has also surged in popularity starting in the mid-2010s, the ATF found. Miscellaneous firearms manufacturing — a category that includes components that are sold to someone who then uses them to assemble a gun —  grew 4,200%, with most of that growth taking place in the last 10 years, according to the report. 

"This growth reflects the growing trend in private individuals making their own customized firearms from serialized parts," the report noted.

The ATF also noted an increase in so-called ghost guns or homemade guns — guns made by an individual without a serial number. Making one's own gun is legal, the ATF noted, and was popular in the 1980s and 1990s among gun hobbyists. But starting in the mid-2000s, the advent of online tutorials and 3D printing fueled the growth of homemade guns. During this time, the number of DIY guns recovered from crime scenes surged.

"As technology advances in the making of [privately made firearms], there has been a corresponding increase in their use in crimes," the agency found.

"[C]riminals are actively making, using, and distributing PMFs both domestically and internationally," the ATF wrote. And because their manufacture and distribution is unregulated, it is "nearly impossible to know how many PMFs are being made and distributed into commerce or being used by criminals."

Law enforcement officials say such guns appeal to criminals since they don't require a background check to purchase. The Biden administration has pushed to crack down on ghost guns, implementing a new rule that would require them to include serial numbers and be traceable like other guns. That rule goes into effect in August.

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