More Vermont guns are being used in crimes committed outside the state, according to a federal study.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) found that in 2013, adjusting for population, Vermont has the highest rate of guns traced and recovered in other states after being used for criminal activity.
The study found that 23.5 guns per 100,000 Vermont residents — 147 total — were recovered in crimes committed outside the state. New Hampshire, at 22.3 guns per 100,000 residents, has the second-highest gun export rate of the six New England states; Massachusetts has the lowest rate, at 3.7 guns per 100,000 residents, the study found. The national average is 15.2 guns per 100,000 people, the ATF report said.
The report, which was released last week, also stated that the share of crime-related guns connected with “dangerous drugs” in Vermont rose to 52 percent in 2013, up from 15 percent in 2012 and 5 percent in 2011.
Ann Braden, president of Gun Sense Vermont, said these are statistics worth taking seriously.
“Vermonters think of Vermont being a leader of other states,” Braden said. “The system is as strong as the weakest link and right now, we are the weakest link. We’re not being the good neighbor we should be.”
Between 2012 and 2013, the incidents of Vermont guns recovered at crime scenes in New York and Massachusetts increased by more than 48 percent, according to the report. Because only a small percentage of crime-related guns are traced, Braden said, these numbers represent just a fraction of the total flow of illegal guns.
Gun Sense Vermont is lobbying for criminal background checks on all gun sales in the 2015 legislative session. The measure would prevent felons and the severely mentally ill from buying weapons and would require all firearm purchases between a buyer and unlicensed seller to take place in a licensed gun store. The organization says a recent survey shows the measure is supported by 81 percent of likely Vermont voters and 77 percent of gun owners.
Braden said she spoke to a group of “proud gun owners” in Caledonia County last weekend. After seeing the recent statistics, a man told her, “That sells it by itself. Clearly we need to do something.”
Bill Moore, a policy analyst for the Vermont Traditions Coalition, said that guns transported outside Vermont’s borders isn’t necessarily a cause for concern.
“The bottom line is that there’s a certain percentage that come from other states, you could probably find a gun from Vermont in Wyoming, in any state, if you go back far enough,” Moore said. “Guns migrate according to people — honest, lawful gun owners.”
Evan Hughes of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs dubbed Gun Sense Vermont’s news release an “inaccurate attempt to blame Vermont for violent crime in other states.”
“When the raw data sample numbers are so small, a minor increase greatly inflates percentage numbers,” Hughes said.
Hughes pointed to the ATF reports from the past two years. In 2011, of the 1,020 Massachusetts guns traced back, 351 originated from Massachusetts, none from Vermont. In 2012, 12 of 999 total Massachusetts traces came from Vermont.
“No matter how they try to work the numbers, Vermont is simply not a major source of guns in other states,” Hughes concluded.
According to the 2013 raw numbers, only 29 of the 1,571 guns seized by police in Massachusetts were traced to Vermont, compared with 431 from Massachusetts, 121 from New Hampshire, and 91 from Maine. Vermont was traced as the source of 61 crime weapons in New York, the primary destination for Vermont guns.
“It’s wrong to conclude that guns are not an issue in Vermont,” Braden said.
Those numbers don’t take into account the population differences between states and, she added, “You want to be comparing apples to apples.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of Vermont guns recovered out-of-state.