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South is highest in export of illegal guns

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Ten states are responsible for the bulk of illegal guns that are shipped across state lines for use in crimes, according to a report released Friday by a national coalition of mayors.

About 30 percent of guns traced by federal agents in 2006 and 2007 during crime investigations were bought in a state other than where the crime occurred, said the report by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which largely blamed the transport of illegal guns on states with lax gun laws.

For 2007, the top sources for guns used in crimes elsewhere were Georgia, Florida, Texas, Virginia, California, Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Alabama.

However, the report's authors placed greater emphasis on per-capita exports of guns, saying those data are a better indicator of lax gun laws. The gun-friendly South accounted for a disproportionate amount of the problem when population size was factored in, according to the report.

West Virginia is the top exporter, per capita, of illegal guns, with 41 traced guns per 100,000 state residents, followed by Mississippi, at 39 guns per 100,000, and South Carolina, at 31. The average national rate is 11 exported guns. Kentucky, Alabama, Virginia, Georgia, Indiana, Nevada and North Carolina round out the top 10 exporting states, per capita, reads the report titled "The Movement of Illegal Guns In America: The Link Between Gun Laws and Interstate Trafficking."

"States with larger populations and states with greater gun sales volumes may be expected to be a source of more crime guns," the report read.

But the report said per capita rates can "more accurately determine which states are disproportionate suppliers of interstate crime guns."

A spokesman for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a co-founder of the mayors' group, said the report is meant to raise awareness.

"Clearly, a small number of states are contributing to a very dangerous national problem," said Mark LaVorgna. "The lack of effort in some states is causing gun crimes in other states that have strong laws."

Guns bought in Hawaii, the District of Columbia — which had banned handguns for 30 years — New Jersey and Massachusetts are least likely to be recovered in a crime elsewhere, the report said.

A spokesman for the National Rifle Association declined to comment on the report, saying the group had not had time to review it.

South Carolina Rep. Mike Pitts, an ardent gun rights supporter, said the state's high ranking doesn't surprise him. He recalled a burglary at his home, saying the thief stole about a dozen of his guns.

"It's not our lax gun laws. It's our high crime rate that causes the problems," said the Laurens Republican, a retired police officer and a National Assembly of Sportsmen's Caucuses committee member. "What's happening is, people break into my home, steal my guns and get a premium price by taking it to other states and selling them."

LaVorgna scoffed at Pitts' argument, saying the data is clear, and that break-ins occur in all states.

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