Local dealers contribute to gun crimes, report shows

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Though out-of-state dealers are significant contributors to gun crime, Monroe County sellers also play a role, according to a report released Friday by the city of Rochester.

Fifty-seven percent of crime guns recovered were from out-of-state dealers, suggesting a majority come from outside the area. However, among the top 30 dealers by gun totals, 66 percent of them were in-state, with 53 percent coming from Monroe County alone.

The city commissioned Brady, a national, nonpartisan organization in late 2021 to conduct an in-depth analysis of firearms used in crimes and recovered by the Rochester Police Department during 2012-2022.

“This report synthesizes 11 years’ worth of gun trace data,” says Rochester Mayor Malik Evans. “I appreciate the work of our police officers and the RPD’s data team, and the work of the Brady team to make this information digestible and actionable.”

Following national trends, the 6,036 crime gun traces in Rochester were concentrated among a small number of federal firearm licensees. Over half of the guns in the dataset were traced to only 10 percent of the dealers, with 28 percent coming from 1 percent of the dealers.

Source: Brady Report: “Uncovering the Truth about Rochester Crime Guns”

Prior to 2003 and the Tiahrt Amendment, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives published nationwide trace data analyses on the origins of crime guns. Pressure from the gun lobby caused restrictions to publicize disaggregated trace data. Now, organizations like Brady carry out such analyses.

Information related to specific dealers was redacted from the report due to regulations surrounding the Tiahrt Amendment, which limits the ATF from requiring gun dealers to submit inventories to law enforcement agencies. However, Chinappi’s Firearms and Supplies, a store in Spencerport, was named in a case study highlighting the importance of adopting strong security measures for gun dealers. After over 80 guns were stolen from the store, the Chinappi’s was temporarily shut down by a court order in 2018 and no longer has a federal firearms license.

“Although there are currently no gun dealers currently operating within the city of Rochester, the city bears the brunt of the impact of gun violence in our community,” says Councilmember Willie Lightfoot. “This report underlines the importance of partnerships across jurisdictions so we can work together to address the supply side of crime guns.”

The report also notes that the majority of federal firearm licensees are responsible business owners who sell firearms in compliance with federal, state, and local law. Nationally, about 5 percent of firearm dealers are responsible for around 90 percent of recovered crime guns. 

Only about 6 percent of the crime guns traced from 2012 to 2022 were used in the category of “violent crime,” referring to homicide, assault or robbery. 

“While the number of homicides is low (47) compared to the total number of traces, it is important to remember that each homicide is a life lost and a family left behind,” the report reads.

Pistols made a dramatic rise in a decade, increasing from about 30 percent in 2012 to over 70 percent of all crime guns traced in 2022. Revolvers, rifles, shotguns and others all decreased proportionally compared to pistols during this time period.

In the pistol category, the 9mm caliber overtook the previously more common .22 caliber (and the shotgun caliber 12 gauge) in 2018, becoming the caliber of about 45 percent of all revolvers traced in 2022. While both guns are lethal, a 9mm pistol is considered more lethal and destructive than a .22 caliber.

The most common manufacturer connected with crime guns in Rochester overall was Smith & Wesson with 548 guns from 2012 to 2022.

In recent years, manufacturer Taurus has taken the top spot. From 2020 to 2022, Taurus had 220 traces while Smith & Wesson had 184. Other gun manufacturers with significant recent numbers included Glock, Ruger and Polymer80.

The Brady Trace Report also outlines a rise in “ghost guns” versus the more previously more common “Saturday Night Specials’’ or “junk” guns which existed in the 1990s. “Saturday Night Specials,”  which are low quality cheap (less than $150) short barreled handguns, are still being used in crimes today since guns are generally durable and can outlast their gun dealer’s lifespan. Only two out of nine of the “Saturday Night Special” manufacturers are still in business.

Ghost guns, on the other hand, are a more recent development where unserialized firearms can be bought in kits and assembled at home. Polymer80, which also saw a recent increase, is known for selling these types of kits.

Before ATF’s Rule 2021R-05F (“ghost gun rule”) went into effect in 2022, these kits were widely available at gun shops, gun shows, and online, and were often purchased by anyone without a background check. In Rochester, the rate of recovered ghost guns shot up from 1.7 percent in 2020 to 6.3 percent in 2021 and 7.8 percent in 2022.

Brady recommends that more cities should follow Rochester’s example to create trace reports.

“We applaud Rochester for leading the initiative in identifying the source of crime guns in their city, and we encourage other cities and localities to follow suit,” says Kris Brown, president of Brady. “Gun violence plagues every city and community in the U.S., and local officials need individualized solutions to address this epidemic. This report provides critical information about the characteristics, trends, and gun industry sources of crime guns recovered in Rochester, which is necessary to craft evidence-based solutions.”

More specifically, the report recommends that government authorities should focus on “problem” dealers with greater scrutiny and pressure them into adopting reforms toward full legal compliance. They suggest working proactively when possible with independent businesses and chain stores to enact safe gun industry business practices’ as outlined by Brady’s Gun Dealer Code of Conduct.

“Even with all the information this gun trace data report provides, it will not solve gun crime in Rochester,” says Evans. “It is, however, another important piece of the puzzle, and we will use this information along with other tools and strategies to continue our fight against deadly gun violence.”

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

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