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New Mexico Ranks Highest in Crime Gun Exports

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) -- Nearly 400 firearms originally purchased in New Mexico have been used in crimes in other states, making it one of the top states in crime gun exports, according to a study by the Americans for Gun Safety Foundation.

The Washington-based foundation reported that federal gun traces in 2001 showed 392 guns bought in New Mexico were seized by police from Houston to Hawaii and from Atlanta to Burlington, Vt.

One possible reason: New Mexico and other top-ranked states don't require private dealers at gun shows to conduct background checks.

The foundation contends a link exists between how a state ranks in crime gun exports and whether it requires background checks on all firearm purchases at gun shows.

Seven of the 10 states with the lowest rates of crime gun exports have laws to require such checks, which are designed to prevent guns from passing into the hands of felons, drug abusers and others.

"The numbers don't lie. You can draw a direct line from the gun show loophole to crime," said Jim Kessler, the foundation's policy director.

But John Farner of the New Mexico Shooting Sports Association calls the foundation's study a stretch.

"It supports their agenda," Farner said. "They try to make the statistics say what they want."

Farner said the majority of sales at gun shows are made by federally licensed dealers who must conduct background checks. He added that shows account for a small percentage of private sales and that such sales at gun shows have declined in recent years.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, at the request of state and local law enforcement agencies, traces seized guns to the point of original retail purchase.

The Americans for Gun Safety Foundation ranked states based on their populations and their numbers of crime gun exports.

New Mexico ranked 13th, with 22.52 crime gun exports per 100,000 people. The neighboring states of Texas and Arizona received the largest shares of New Mexico's crime gun exports.

Mississippi ranked first, with 63.99 gun exports per 100,000 people.

Of guns used in crimes nationwide in 2001, the foundation reported that 74 percent originated in states where background checks aren't required on private sales at gun shows.

However, there are some shortcomings with the ATF data. The bureau only traces crime guns when asked to do so by law enforcement agencies, and agencies don't seek traces on all weapons used in crime.

Also, the bureau doesn't trace the entire ownership history of a weapon, meaning the data doesn't show if a firearm was resold privately at a gun show.

While few private sales take place at gun shows, Michael Hernandez, president of the New Mexico Gun Collectors Association, said requiring background checks would be devastating to such events.

He also said background checks on private sales would be ineffective.

"A criminal's not going to go to a gun show to buy a weapon," he said. "They are going to find it on the street."

Representatives of the New Mexico State Police Association, the Fraternal Order of Police State Lodge and the New Mexico Municipal Chiefs of Police Association say their groups haven't taken a position on requiring background checks on private sales at gun shows.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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