Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Tracking Path of Guns Used in Crime Is an Inexact Science

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Tracking Path of Guns Used in Crime Is an Inexact Science

Article excerpt

SMYRNA, Ga. - Adventure Outdoors is an 80,000-square-foot store with walls lined with long guns, cases packed with handguns and aisles jammed with all the accessories an avid outdoorsman would need: coolers, clothing, ammo. At the customer service counter is a government-issued poster that warns: "Don't lie for the other guy." Store founder Jay Wallace said his staff is diligent about making sure buyers are legitimate and not fronting for someone who is legally prohibited from buying a gun. But once a sale goes through, he said, it's out of his hands.

"A firearm takes on a life of its own after it leaves. It can be bought and sold many times over," Wallace said.

The flow of guns from one person to another, and from states with loose gun laws to those with strict ones, has long flummoxed law enforcement and gun-control advocates and is emerging again as a hot topic.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton singled out rival Bernie Sanders' home state of Vermont, which has few gun restrictions, for supplying a disproportionate share of firearms used in crimes in New York. (She exaggerated: in reality, many more guns flow in from states to the South.) California Gov. Jerry Brown, after the San Bernardino attack, charged that lax gun laws in Arizona and Nevada have created a weapons pipeline into California. And Chicago has long been plagued by guns traced to points as far away as Mississippi.

While the vast majority of guns used in crimes were originally sold legally, what happens to such weapons after their initial sale is difficult to track and even harder to prevent, because most criminals get their guns from friends, family or on the street.

"We have very little information about the precise course that all the guns take that are used by criminals, said Daniel W. Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

The government has essentially two snapshots of a gun: where it was purchased and where it was recovered, an incomplete picture because not every gun recovered by police is traced.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives show that guns used in crimes usually are bought in the state where the offense is committed.

Of the 7,686 firearms recovered in New York that were traced by the ATF in 2014, 1,397 were originally sold in New York. The top out- of-state source of firearms was Virginia, where 395 firearms originated, followed closely by Georgia and Pennsylvania.

After the attacks in San Bernardino, California's governor noted that his state has some of the country's toughest gun laws and complained that neighboring Arizona and Nevada are "a gigantic back door through which any terrorist can walk. The governors of Nevada and Arizona rebuked Brown and, in any event, the guns used in the attacks were bought legally in California. …

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