ALBANY -- Most guns recovered from New York crimes last year originated in states with fewer legal restrictions, though the largest single source remains New York itself, where 1,595 were first purchased, federal data show.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives -- which traced 8,793 guns from New York crimes or investigations -- reported that many came from southern or Eastern Seaboard states, though some originated in recorded retail sales from nearly every other state.
ATF officials say the report shows that New York's restrictive gun laws have made it a "market state" for guns from elsewhere at a time when recent shootings have reignited the national debate on regulations. Authorities said the main weapon used in the killing of a dozen moviegoers in Aurora, Colo., was an AR-15 rifle modified with a high-capacity magazine that allowed firing many bullets without reloading. That gun would be illegal in New York.
New York laws prohibit machine guns and possessing handguns without a license.
"We call New York a market state because it's so highly regulated that it's easier to get a gun in another state and bring it back," said ATF group supervisor Robert Cucinelli.
While buying a single-shot rifle or shotgun generally follows the same federal rules as the rest of the country, New York's handgun license applications involve a vetting process that can take six months. In addition, New York City requires a special permit to own a rifle or shotgun, and its pistol permits expire every three years.
The ATF report did not specify the sources of nine machine guns from New York crimes. Possession of a machine gun under New York law is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Having another firearm "simulating a machine gun and which is adaptable for such use" or having a "large capacity ammunition feeding device" is punishable by up to seven years.
Federal law requires owners to register machine guns with ATF, prohibits individuals from buying any that weren't registered before May 19, 1986, and bars interstate transfers.
New York City police said the weapon used earlier this month in Queens to kill three men might have been an AK-47 assault rifle that rapidly fired at least 63 rounds, littering the area with shell casings.
"There certainly is an underground market," State Police Maj. Wayne Olson said. It's fed by out-of-state guns, including "straw purchases" by buyers fronting for others, by lost or stolen guns and even some falsely reported as stolen, he said.