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Weak Gun Laws Increase Illegal Trafficking

Report finds that states with the weakest gun laws supply criminals with the bulk of guns used in out-of-state crimes - and have higher in-state gun murder rates

Only ten states supplied 57 percent of guns recovered in crimes in other states in 2007

The bi-partisan coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns released a landmark report today that goes beyond the published efforts of the federal government to reveal previously unreported trends in the movement of illegal guns across state lines. This report, The Movement of Illegal Guns In America: The Link between Gun Laws and Interstate Trafficking, analyzes state-by-state trace data from 2006 and 2007 released by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The report uncovers the relationship between a state's gun regulations and the likelihood that it will be a source of guns recovered in out-of-state crimes. States with the weakest gun laws are significantly more likely to sell guns that are used in out-of-state crimes and significantly more likely to experience higher in-state rates of gun murders and shootings of police officers. The report also identifies - for the first time - the ten states that were the highest per capita suppliers of interstate crime guns in 2007.

"Our bi-partisan coalition of more than 340 mayors from around the country has fought for access to the critically important trace data that made this powerful report possible," said New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, co-chair of the coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. "For years, the Tiahrt Amendments have restricted access to aggregate trace data, making it difficult to analyze the interstate illegal gun market and the criminals who feed it. As a result of our efforts, Congress relaxed some of these restrictions, allowing ATF to release this vitally important data, and our analysis shows quite clearly that states that are the top sources for crime guns have weak gun laws."

"This first of its kind report on interstate gun trafficking proves the importance of the coalition's efforts to repeal the Tiahrt Amendment," Mayors Against Illegal Guns co-chair and Mayor of Boston Thomas M. Menino said. "Massachusetts has some of the strongest gun laws, but in Boston, 60% of illegal guns originate from other states. The fact that so many illegal guns come from out of state highlights the need to work cooperatively at a national level to ensure that our local police officers have the necessary information to track and document interstate illegal gun trafficking."

To understand why some states are more often the sources of interstate crime guns than other states, the coalition's report compares the crime gun "export" rate of states that have enacted five key gun regulations to the crime gun "export" rate of states that have not enacted these regulations. The five gun regulations examined in this report include: (1) background checks on all handgun sales at gun shows; (2) purchase permits for all handgun sales; (3) mandatory reporting of lost and stolen guns to law enforcement; (4) local control of firearms regulations; and (5) state inspections of gun dealers. The comparisons reveal that states with few or none of the five regulations are more often the source of guns recovered in out-of-state crimes than states with most or all of these regulations.

The ten states that supplied interstate crime guns at the highest rates in 2007 are (in descending order): West Virginia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, Virginia, Georgia, Indiana, Nevada, and North Carolina. These top export states have adopted, on average, just 0.6 of the five gun laws studied in this report. In contrast, the ten states with the lowest crime gun export rates have adopted, on average, 3.4 of the five laws, which is over five times the average of the ten states with the highest crime gun export rates.

This report also finds that the average gun murder rate among the ten states with the highest crime gun export rate was 59% higher than the gun murder rate of the ten states with the lowest crime gun export rate. In addition, the average rate of fatal shootings of police officers among the top ten export states is nearly three times that of the ten states with the lowest crime gun export rates.

The analysis in this report is only possible because ATF has once again begun releasing reports based on aggregated trace data from guns recovered in 2006 and 2007. ATF had regularly released trace data reports for years, but annual Congressional appropriations riders beginning in 2002, the "Tiahrt Amendments," prohibited it from continuing to do so. Only after a national campaign by the coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns and more than 30 police organizations did Congress relax some of these restrictions in 2007. While significant restrictions still remain on access to trace data, the resumption of ATF's release of limited data in public reports paved the way for this analysis.

The finding in the report bolsters the Mayors' coalition push for common sense gun laws at the city, state, and federal level. Copies of the report will be sent to all 50 governors, and the full report can be found here.

To visit the coalition's website, click here.


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