SAFE Act seems to fail at keeping guns from criminals

Most guns used in crimes in New York state between 2010 and 2015 came from other places.

That is the biggest takeaway from a report released recently by Eric Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general. “Target on Trafficking: Analysis of New York Gun Crimes” found that 74 percent of guns used in a crime recovered in New York came from outside this state.

Of these, 70 percent originated “in just six states with weak gun laws — the states along I-95 that make up the Iron Pipeline,” says an online presentation on the report.

Mr. Schneiderman uses those numbers to argue that the federal government and other states should enact tougher gun laws. Doing so, he reasons, would keep guns out of the hands of criminals committing crimes in our state.

“Critics of gun regulations often say that criminals don’t obey the law, so why bother?” the report’s website says. “The data refutes that argument. It shows that New York’s laws requiring universal background checks and permits for handguns are working to keep criminals from purchasing these weapons within the State.”

However, the report’s data shows that the percentage of crime guns from out of state remained remarkably even before and after New York’s SAFE Act was passed in 2013. From 2010 to 2015, it only fluctuated between 73 and 75 percent. The number of recovered crime guns went down, along with the violent crime rate throughout the Northeast, but the out-of-state percentage stayed the same.

Obviously, it’s desirable and worth some degree of government action to keep guns out of the hands of those who would do harm. New York’s SAFE Act was supposed to do that, but by Mr. Schneiderman’s measure, it hasn’t worked. If the out-of-state gun percentage had spiked since the new restrictions took effect, that might indicate criminals were being foiled here and turning more often to other states, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.

Perhaps New York lawmakers didn’t realize the length to which those who want to do harm will go to do so, or maybe the SAFE Act was always more symbolic than pragmatic. Three years after its passage, the gun-related freedoms of people who have done nothing wrong have been restricted while people who have no business owning a gun find ways to get one.

Mr. Schneiderman is right that a piecemeal, state-by-state approach to gun laws is doomed to fail. Any changes should be federal in nature. But we caution our federal representatives about using Mr. Schneiderman’s report to justify further infringements on legal gun owners without being sure new laws will actually keep guns out of the hands of criminals.

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