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The gun-debate rhetoric has been constant in the months since the Newtown shooting in Connecticut in December.
Elected officials at every level have pitched gun control proposals, including President Barack Obama, whose $500 million package of gun legislation includes an assault weapons ban and universal background checks for gun buyers.
Last month, U.S. Rep. Jim Moran talked about Newtown and gun proposals during floor debate about gun violence. In discussing background checks and gun trafficking, Moran urged his fellow lawmakers to "act responsibly" and approve some of the gun control measures.
"In Virginia, we are one of the three states that are the principal source for trafficking of guns. Florida and Georgia are the other two," Moran said during a floor discussion of the issues.
PolitiFact Georgia wondered if the Peach State, and the other two states, actually held this unfortunate distinction. And what about Texas? With its close proximity to Mexico and that country’s history of illegal gun activity, surely the Lone Star State was high on the gun trafficking list.
Moran made his comments alongside fellow Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif. Speier was shot five times in 1978, while serving as a staff member to then-U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan. The two officials were part of a rescue attempt of constituents from the People’s Temple compound in Jonestown, Guyana. Ryan was killed by gunfire on the mission.
Moran’s office pointed us to a September 2010 "Trace the Guns" report by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a self-described coalition of more than 900 U.S. mayors that works to help law enforcement target illegal guns. The study is based on "crime gun trace data" from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
According to the report, for the years 2007 through 2009, the states of Florida and Virginia ranked second or third among all states as the source for recovered firearms used in crimes in other states. Georgia ranked first each of those years, as well as in 2006, when Texas held the third position, beating out Florida. During those four years, nine of the top 10 source states for the trafficked guns -- Georgia, Florida, Virginia, Texas, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and California -- remained the same. In 2009, the top 10 states supplied 49 percent of the crime guns that crossed state lines.
The study authors note that states with larger populations, like those in the top 10, can be expected to be a source of more crime guns. Controlling for population produces a crime gun "export rate," the number of recovered crime guns purchased in states other than the purchase state, per 100,000 people.
Using the export rate calculations, state rankings on the trafficking list change. Virginia and Georgia dropped to Nos. 7 and 10, respectively, in 2009, the data year included in the report. Florida ranked 29th, just above the national average. Topping the per capita list were Mississippi, West Virginia and Kentucky, which occupied the top three positions.
The three states of Virginia, Florida and Georgia, mentioned by Moran, have similarities that influence their gun trafficking rankings, said Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.
"Not all gun sales in these states are regulated, the states don’t tend to have any type of regulatory oversight of gun dealers and they are all along the I-95 corridor," he said. That interstate corridor, running along the eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida, is seen as a pipeline for illegal goods.
Webster’s center recently completed a book, "Reducing Gun Violence in America," examining the relationship of gun sales regulations and the rate at which guns cross borders into the hands of criminals.
"There is a lot of profit to be made in the far Northeastern states where the laws are much stricter," Webster said. "A gun that can be bought in these three states at a retail price of $100 can be sold for $400 in New York City," he said.
PolitiFact Georgia also found a 2011 study conducted by Brown University economist Brian Knight that explored the state-to-state flow of illegal firearms in the country and examined the role of state gun regulations. That study, also based on ATF crime gun data, found that guns flow from states with less restrictive gun laws into states with restrictive laws. For example, the report found that the largest firearm suppliers to New York are Florida, Georgia and Virginia.
Gun control organizations have given the three states that Moran mentions low ratings for their gun laws. On the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence’s 2011 scorecard, Virginia received a 12; Georgia received an 8; Florida got a 3 on a scale to 100 on the strength of the states’ gun laws. Similarly, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gave all three states D’s in its 2012 "Gun Laws Matter" report grading state gun laws.
Earlier this month, a U.S. Senate committee passed a bill that makes gun trafficking a federal crime with up to 25 years in prison for people who legally buy guns but give them to others who use them in crimes. And last month, members of both parties in the U.S. House introduced a gun proposal that would increase penalties on the illegal purchase and transportation of guns.
So what’s the draw?
U.S. Rep. Jim Moran said that the states of Virginia, Florida and Georgia are the principal source for gun trafficking, and urged his congressional colleagues to pass some of the proposed gun control measures.
Based on crime gun data recorded by the ATF and cited in several studies and publications, those three states hold the top three spots from 2007 to 2009 for crime guns that are trafficked to other states. In 2006, Texas overtook Florida for the third spot, but Georgia held the top position throughout the four-year period.
Adjusting for population, Virginia and Georgia still rank in the top 10 gun-exporting states, but Florida drops to No. 29.
Moran’s statement is accurate but lacks that important detail. Ultimately, the data and experts tie the gun trafficking to states’ gun laws, and these three states have laws that are less restrictive than others surrounding them.
We rated Moran’s statement Mostly True.
U.S. House gun violence debate transcript, Congressional Record, U.S. Government Printing Office, Feb. 27, 2013
Email information from U.S. Rep. Jim Moran’s office, March 1, 2013
The New York Times, "Bipartisan House plan focuses on gun trafficking," Jeremy W. Peters, Feb. 5, 2013
Mayors Against Illegal Guns report, "Trace the Guns: The Link Between Gun Laws and Interstate Gun Trafficking," Page 5, September 2010
Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Study finds Va. guns often used in out-of-state crimes," Frank Green, Sept. 28, 2010
Phone interview, Daniel Webster, director, Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, March 7, 2013
The Atlanta Journal Constitution, "House says yes to expanded gun rights," Aaron Gould Sheinin and Kristina Torres, March 7, 2013
Fox News, "Senate committee approves gun trafficking bill," Associated Press, March 7, 2013
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