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MAIG Mimics Brady Campaign's Misuse Of Tracing Data

Friday, October 1, 2010

This week, Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) released a report, similar to earlier efforts by the Brady Campaign, claiming that guns originally sold in states that don't have the gun control laws that MAIG likes are more likely to end up "recovered in out-of-state crimes."

As you probably have already deduced, MAIG's conclusions, like Brady's, are based entirely upon BATFE firearm tracing statistics, which BATFE and the Congressional Research Service have repeatedly said should not be used to reach broad conclusions about criminal activity with guns.

BATFE says, for example, "Not all firearms used in crimes are traced and not all firearms traced are used in crime. Firearms selected for tracing aren't chosen for purposes of determining which types, makes or models of firearms are used for illicit purposes. The firearms selected don't constitute a random sample and should not be considered representative of the larger universe of all firearms used by criminals, or any subset of that universe. . . .[S]ources reported for firearms traced do not necessarily represent the sources or methods by which firearms in general are acquired for use in crime."

Of course, for many years on many issues -- "assault weapons," "Saturday Night Specials," lawsuits against gun manufacturers and dealers, and the list goes on -- anti-gun groups have resorted to tracing data because crime and other reliable data have not supported their arguments. In this instance, for example, MAIG contends that illegal acquisition of firearms is associated with 10 specific state-level gun laws. But, the 10 laws -- some of which are already in effect at the federal level -- don't correlate to state total violent crime rates. And, the 10 states with the highest violent crime rates, and the 10 states with the lowest rates, both have an average of two of the 10 gun laws.

Nor is there a correlation between the states' violent crime and murder rates, and what MAIG calls their "export-import ratios" -- the relationships between the numbers of traced guns that come into the states from other states, and the number of traced guns that eventually go from the states to other states. In fact, each of the 10 states that MAIG singles out for derision, for not having the 10 laws it favors, has a lower percentage of guns sold in the state later traced by BATFE, as compared to national figures.

A number of other factors underscore the limitations inherent in using tracing data in the first place. For example, while BATFE takes the position that illegal trafficking is more likely indicated when firearms are traced within two years of their original sale, the average interim period on traced guns nationally is 11 years. BATFE often does not even attempt traces on older guns, believing they would be unsuccessful or fail to reveal evidence of illegal trafficking. As MAIG pointed out, BATFE was not able to complete traces on 61 percent of the guns for which traces were submitted by law enforcement agencies.

Furthermore, while MAIG's whole premise concerns interstate trafficking of guns, 70 percent of guns that BATFE traces were recovered by the police in the same state in which they were originally sold.

Of course, no comment on the lack of correlation between tracing and violent crime would be complete without mentioning that the vast majority of traced guns have not been used to commit violent crimes, but were rather taken into custody by police for possession and other less serious offenses.

Finally, when guns do cross state lines, it is not necessarily because they were illegally trafficked. People move across state lines for a variety of reasons, such as to take a new job, to be nearer family members, or to be in an area with warmer weather and/or a lower cost of living. And, a gun owner may sell a firearm to any dealer anywhere in the country, because the prohibition on interstate sales of firearms only applies to sales between two non-licensed individuals.

Thus, not by coincidence, guns that are recovered in one state, but originally sold in other states, typically come from neighboring states. For example, "out-of-state" guns recovered in Kentucky most commonly come from Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee. Those recovered in Ohio typically come from Kentucky, West Virginia and Indiana. And so on.

MAIG's new "trafficking" report breaks no new ground. And, coming on the heels of FBI data showing violent crime at a 35-year low, it fails to make even a superficial case for gun control. But, considering MAIG's support of microstamping and restrictions on concealed carry, its efforts to push Sen. Frank Lautenberg's horrendous "terror watchlist" and "gun show" bills, and its penchant for blaming U.S. gun laws for Mexico's ongoing war with drug cartels, the new report makes clear that the group's leader, Michael Bloomberg, intends for it to remain the most aggressive and highly visible threat to the Second Amendment in the near term.

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