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The fatal shooting of New York City police officer Brian Moore has the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety again taking aim at Georgia and its gun laws.
"Once again, a police officer has been killed with an illegal gun from Georgia -- a state that last year did the NRA’s bidding and weakened its already lax gun laws," Megan Lewis, the group’s vice president, said in a May 6 press release..
Moore, 25, was shot in the face May 2 and died two days later. Police took a convicted felon into custody 90 minutes after the shooting and later said the suspect’s weapon was one of 23 guns reported stolen in a break-in at Little’s Bait, Tackle & Pawn in Perry, south of Macon, in October 2011.
Nine of those 23 stolen guns have since turned up at New York crime scenes, including the silver Taurus .38-caliber revolver seized in connection with Moore’s slaying, NYPD officials said.
But have there been other police officers killed by illegal guns traced to Georgia as Everytown for Gun Safety’s statement suggests? PolitiFact decided to check.
First a little background.
Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and gun-control advocate Shannon Watts, contends that stolen and illegally trafficked firearms are making their way to cities such as New York from Georgia and other states, especially in the South, that have lax gun laws via the so-called "iron pipeline."
Erika Soto Lamb, the group’s communications, said Everytown for Gun Safety can back up the statement. As evidence, she pointed to the killings of two NYPD police officers last December in a rampage by a convicted felon. The suspect was using a gun that was first sold legally by Arrowhead Pawn Shop in Jonesboro, she said.
We asked: Is it fair to say that’s "an illegal gun from Georgia?"
"The shooter in that event was a convicted felon -- which means he should not have been in possession of a gun and which makes that an illegal gun," she wrote in an email..
Tracing and tracking firearms
The job of tracing guns falls to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the only agency authorized to track firearms made in the United States and abroad when law enforcement agencies request help.
Police recover guns in various ways – as part of a criminal investigation, during regular patrols and even in buyback events. They can submit requests to the ATF’s National Tracing Center to track a weapon’s history, said ATF Agent Charles J. Mulham, the public information officer for the Bureau’s New York field division.
Because a gun’s history can become evidence in a trial, the records are not public unless the requesting agencies disclosing them.
The New York Police Department submitted such a request following the shooting of Moore in Queens. It later made the findings public in a press conference.
Without required public disclosure of the trace records, the question of whether additional illegal guns from Georgia were used in the shooting deaths of other New York City cops becomes fuzzy to answer.
Federal law requires only that guns stolen or lost from licensed gun dealers be reported to the ATF.
The District of Columbia and another 10 states – including New York and neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut – require private citizens to report the theft or loss of at least some handguns or weapons. Georgia has no such requirement.
That means those who aspire to make money by selling hard-to-come-by firearms in New York City for profit could, in theory, not even bother to steal them in Georgia.
They could buy them here, sell them for high mark-ups in New York and, if the trace came back to a legal purchase, possibly face no penalty if they claimed the weapons had been stolen but not reported, Mulham said.
In other words, it’s a tricky definition to term a gun "illegal" given the patchwork of state laws that govern their purchase.
That complicates the definition of the gun used in the December shooting deaths of New York City officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos
That gun, a Taurus 9 mm, was bought legally in 1996 from the Jonesboro pawn shop, said NYPD Lt. John Grimpel.
The weapon’s history then becomes murky before convicted felon Ismaaiyl Brinsley ended up with it and shot the officers as they sat in their patrol car.
It was illegal for Brinsley to have the gun, given restrictions on ownership by felons as well as New York law making it illegal for anyone to have a handgun without a permit.
But the gun itself was officially legal because it was legally purchased. That history was uncovered when NYPD requested the gun be traced after the shootings.
"After 1996, the whereabouts of the gun were unknown, until December 2014 when it was used in the murders of officers Ramos and Liu," Grimpel said.
Police have seized a gun stolen from Georgia nearly four years ago and believe it was used in the recent, tragic shooting death of a young NYPD officer.
But Everytown For Gun Safety overreaches in suggesting that an earlier fatal shooting of two officers involved an "illegal gun from Georgia." That weapon was sold according to federal law and therefore legal, until it found its way to someone who used it to commit a horrific crime.
Such overreaches allow political debate to shape facts.
We rate the statement Mostly False.
Everytown For Gun Safety, "Statement on NYPD Officer Brian Moore killed with illegal gun stolen from Georgia," May 5, 2015
U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, National Tracing Center, accessed May 7, 2015
U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, 2014 Federal Firearm Licensee Loss/Theft Report, April 7, 2015
Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Reporting Lost or Stolen Firearms Policy Summary, Aug. 21, 2013
The New York Times, "A Gun From Georgia Is Linked to a New York Officer’s Death, Again," May 5, 2015
New York Post, "Shot NYPD cop dies," May 4, 2015
Phone interview with ATF Agent Charles J. Mulham, public information officer for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ New York field division, May 7, 2015
Phone interview with Lt. John Grimpel, public information officer for New York Police Department, May 7, 2015
Emails with Erika Soto Lamb, communications director, Everytown for Gun Safety
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