Our national gun violence crisis continues—2016 brought us the deadliest mass shooting in American history, when a gunman opened fire inside an Orlando nightclub, killing 49. Since then, gun rights and gun policy have played a leading role in our country’s debate about how to make our communities safer.
Now, a groundbreaking new report gives the lie to another favorite gun lobby talking point: that strengthening laws to keep guns out of dangerous hands is pointless because criminals don’t follow the law anyway. The report, Target on Trafficking: New York Crime Gun Analysis from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office, debunks that tired canard once and for all—and shows how strong gun laws reduce crime and save lives.
Between 2010 and 2015, police recovered nearly 53,000 guns from crime scenes in New York State. Using data on these guns obtained from the ATF, Schneiderman analyzed how these weapons were obtained and used by criminals in New York.
The results are striking. About three-quarters of the guns used in New York crimes are handguns, and nearly nine in ten of these guns—fully 86%—came from out-of-state. Most of them came from just six states with weak gun laws where it’s easy for traffickers to obtain deadly weapons and funnel them into the black market. These states stretch south from New York along Interstate 95, a route that has become known as the “Iron Pipeline” because it supplies such a significant share of the illicit gun market.
The reason criminals turn to the pipeline is simple: New York’s strong laws prevent them from acquiring guns at home. The state is one of only six to earn a top grade in our annual Gun Law State Scorecard, largely because it requires permits to buy handguns and requires background checks for all gun sales, effective policies that stop criminals from purchasing weapons in New York.
Laws like these protect public safety. After Connecticut adopted a permit-to-purchase law like New York’s, gun-related homicides dropped 40 percent. When Missouri did the opposite in 2007, repealing a permit law on the books since the 1920s, the gun murder rate went up by nearly 20 percent. The number of criminals who got their guns in-state increased dramatically, too.
So it is no surprise that, besides making it more difficult for criminals to obtain firearms, smart gun laws in states like New York also reduce the level of gun violence as a whole. A comprehensive analysis from the Center for American Progress recently found there was an “undeniable correlation between certain strong gun laws and lower rates of gun violence.” And data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that, controlling for population, the Empire State’s strong laws place it among the five states with the lowest overall rates of gun violence.
Perhaps it’s obvious that rates of gun violence would be lower in states with laws that make it harder for dangerous people to get their hands on guns. What doesn’t make sense is why lawmakers in states with porous gun laws—and soaring rates of overall gun violence—refuse to enact policies that make it harder for criminals to acquire deadly weapons when the research shows again and again these commonsense solutions lead to lower levels of gun violence.
Of course, the gun lobby’s ability to block proven, evidence-based solutions in some states is not the only aspect of our politics that defies reason. The vast majority of Americans—more than 92%—agree that smart gun laws like universal background checks are the best path to reducing the heavy toll gun violence has on our nation. After years of inaction, Congress is finally starting to fight back against the gun lobby’s spurious rhetoric—Sen. Chris Murphy’s 15-hour filibuster for universal background checks and Rep. John Lewis’s historic sit-in on the House floor following the Orlando shooting are powerful signs that the tide is turning and our leaders are ready to demand change.
This report provides critical evidence that smart gun laws like universal background checks work to keep guns out of dangerous hands—and that all states need to follow suit by enacting these commonsense measures that help safeguard our nation against gun violence.