Three gun crimes, three corners of New York State.
In Buffalo in 2012, two victims standing outside smoking a cigarette around 2 a.m. shot, one fatally. The 9-millimeter pistol allegedly used in the crime was purchased in Ohio.
On Long Island in 2010, a jealous man killed his ex-girlfriend and a rival in separate attacks, and then later shot himself. The pistol was purchased in South Carolina and likely trafficked to New York.
And on a corner in Bed Stuy in 2014, police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were shot and killed at point-blank range by a disturbed man who had traveled from Baltimore and made threats on his Instagram account. The gun was purchased in Georgia.
New York State has strict gun control laws that attempt to minimize gun crimes like these and countless others. Yet those laws are less effective when guns can be easily bought and brought from out of state.
A report released by State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman this week uses gun trace data to demonstrate what previous reports and many law enforcement officials already know: strong local gun control laws can’t stop the illegal flood of guns from nearby places with lax gun laws. The weapons make their way across the border individually, or are trafficked in bulk.
Guns don’t stop at state lines
The report finds that between 2010 and 2015, more than 50,000 guns connected to crimes were recovered by New York law enforcement. More than 46,500 of those were traceable, and 74 percent came from out of New York.
In New York City, gun laws are even tighter — both handguns and long guns require permits, for example — and the percentage of out-of-state guns connected to crimes is also higher: 87 percent.
Those guns come largely from the I-95 “Iron Pipeline” — states like Virginia, North and South Carolina and Pennsylvania, where gun laws are largely looser. In Virginia, for example, you can buy and own a firearm without a permit (though there are restrictions such as minimum age). Unlicensed sellers don’t have to do background checks on purchasers. Virginia sent at least 2,843 guns to New York over the period, according to the report.
The report makes a number of recommendations for stopping the flow. They include local initiatives like a “kingpin bill” that would increase penalties on gun traffickers. That could help address the approximately 20 percent of guns with known time lines that the report estimates were brought to the Empire State with intent to sell.
Most consequential, and most controversially, the report calls for federal solutions, from stronger trafficking legislation to universal background checks. Those are vehemently opposed by the National Rifle Association.
The other side
Chris Zealand of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action argues that existing laws should be enforced before adding new ones. He cited the current federal prohibition on private sales to those the sellers have “reasonable cause to believe” do not live in the same state.
But in most states, unlicensed sellers are also not required to ask for identification, begging the question of how the law on the books is enforceable.
Zealand also argued the report used trace data inappropriately. Using the data for advocacy like this, instead of just tracking down illegal guns, leads to inaccurate and “broad generalization,” he said.
When asked what data might be accurate and acceptable to the NRA for making broader policy arguments, he said the only way would be to create a nationwide database of firearms.
The NRA, of course, opposes that, too.