America's Most Wanted Guns

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The top 10 guns used in crimes in the U.S. in 2000, according to an unpublished study by U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and obtained exclusively by TIME:

1. Smith and Wesson .38 revolver
2. Ruger 9 mm semiautomatic
3. Lorcin Engineering .380 semiautomatic
4. Raven Arms .25 semiautomatic
5. Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun
6. Smith and Wesson 9mm semiautomatic
7. Smith and Wesson .357 revolver
8. Bryco Arms 9mm semiautomatic
9. Bryco Arms .380 semiautomatic
10. Davis Industries .380 semiautomatic

The list is derived from the center's investigations of 88,570 guns recovered from crime scenes in 46 cities in 2000, is being analyzed for ATF's youth gun crime interdiction initiative, which helps local police forces understand and counter gun trafficking to youth in their jurisdictions.

One measure by which ATF gauges a gun's appeal as an offensive (rather than a defensive or sporting) weapon is its "time-to-crime" factor — how long after its sale it is used in a crime. Revolvers, not generally used as an offensive weapon, had a median time-to-crime of 12.3 years, according to the 2000 figures. At the other extreme, Bryco Arms 9mm semiautomatics recovered from kids younger than18 had a median time-to-crime of 1.5 years, and those recovered from suspects aged 18 to 24 had a median time-to-crime of 1.1 years. The Hi Point 9mm is another downscale semiautomatic frequently seized from suspects in the 18-to-24 age range; it has a time-to-crime span of just one year.

Though most teenage gangbangers wouldn't be caught dead with a Smith and Wesson .38 revolver, an old fashioned six shooter, it nonetheless claims the lead on the top ten list. That's because there are literally millions in existence; Smith and Wesson introduced the .38 in 1899, and since then, models have proliferated, transforming the name "Smith and Wesson .38" into a generic label for a particular style of gun, even clones that aren't made by Smith and Wesson. Similarly, the Smith and Wesson .357 revolver, which was introduced in 1935, and the venerable Mossberg shotgun made the list based on the sheer volume in circulation.

But street criminals are interested almost exclusively in semiautomatics, preferring their superior firepower. (Semiautomatics hold at least seven and often as many as ten or twelve rounds of ammunition.) Gun traffickers like to peddle cheap semiautomatics to teenagers because they can tack on a hefty mark-up and still offer a weapon that costs less than an upscale gun like a Ruger or Smith and Wesson semiautomatic. That's why inexpensive semiautomatics dominate the top ten list. As it happens, many of the companies on that list have links to George Jennings, founder of the now-defunct Raven Arms and his clan. Jennings' son Bruce founded Bryco in 1992. According to the ATF, Jennings' son-in-law Jim Davis founded Davis Industries, and Lorcin Engineering was launched by Jim Waldorf, Bruce Jennings' high school friend. These companies and several others also linked to Jennings are known in the trade as the "ring of fire."

While Bryco has recently slowed its production and has stopped making several models, according to ATF and other industry sources, gun dealers still have plenty of its firearms in inventory. That's why Bryco holds down two spots on the tracing center's "Top Ten Crime Guns" list for 2000.

Experts at the ATF's National Firearms Tracing Center in Falling Water, W.Va., believe that the demand for Bryco wares is driven by teenagers and young adults who like the guns' menacing looks, ample 10-round magazines and rock-bottom prices. Bryco semiautomatics, which can be had in matte black or shiny nickel finish, retail for less than $100 new, and for as little as $55 used. By contrast, Ruger 9mm's are more reliable, higher quality weapons. They're favored by law enforcement officers, well-heeled target shooters and collectors — and adult crooks as well — and cost about $500 new.