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Editorial: Loose laws in other states make it easy for criminals in New York to obtain guns

A report by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman affirms the effectiveness of the state’s gun laws while also posing a conundrum: Most guns recovered by police in New York come from out of state. That suggests that while New York’s laws are working, they can be evaded by traveling no farther than Ohio.

But if that’s a problem – and it is – it does nothing to diminish the importance of New York’s laws. Anything the state can constitutionally do to limit gun violence, it should. New York’s laws may be undermined by the indifference of other states, but they nonetheless create a valuable obstacle to crime.

According to Schneiderman’s report, nearly 75 percent of traceable guns connected to crimes that were recovered in the state from 2010 through 2015 made their way into New York from Ohio and states along the so-called “Iron Pipeline,” the I-95 corridor with looser gun laws. Data for the report came from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The report shows that in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, almost 60 percent of guns recovered by law enforcement came from outside the state. Of 424 “likely trafficked” guns in Erie and Niagara counties, 19 percent came from Ohio, 18 percent came from Georgia and 17 percent from Pennsylvania.

In raw numbers, 5,255 guns were recovered by police in Erie and Niagara counties over the period. That amounts to 10 percent of all guns recovered by law enforcement in New York over that time, according to the report.

These figures are both eye-opening and persuasive. Gun control laws can be effective and they can be entirely consistent with the protections offered by the Second Amendment, as even the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia observed.

This has nothing to do with the legal right to own guns. No law prevents, or should prevent, law-abiding New Yorkers from owning firearms for home security, for example. The kinds of guns that are legal must be open for debate – weapons designed for mass murder are the Second Amendment version of child pornography – but there are many legal and appropriate uses for weapons that deserve the protection the Constitution provides.

As both Schneiderman and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo observed, these figures bolster the case for federal action and there are many areas where Republicans and Democrats, including members of the National Rifle Association, agree.

For example, all states should be required to do background checks for potential gun buyers in private transactions and at gun shows. Congress should also enact a comprehensive federal gun trafficking law.

Schneiderman also advocates for additional state action, including passage of a “gun kingpin bill.” His approach would increase penalties for anyone convicted of selling more than 20 illegal guns. Such a measure would replicate laws dealing with those who are convicted of selling large amounts of narcotics. Why would anyone object?

None of this should be controversial and, in fact, largely isn’t – at least, not outside of the executive offices of the NRA and certain timid members of Congress. It can be done, and Schneiderman’s report shows why it should be done.

As Cuomo observed: “… when someone can hop into a car, buy a gun just over the border and bring it back to commit a crime, Congress has failed in its prime responsibility to protect its citizens.” That’s inarguable.

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