Speaking at an event in New York, Clinton argued that Sanders’s home state is responsible for guns used to commit crimes in New York.
“Here’s what I want you to know. Most of the guns that are used in crimes and violence and killings in New York come from out of state,” Clinton said. She added, “The state that has the highest per capita number of those guns that end up committing crimes in New York come from Vermont. So this is not, ‘Oh, you know, I live in a rural state, we don’t have any of these problems.'”
“You know what, it’s easy to cross borders, criminals, domestic abusers, traffickers, people who are mentally ill, they cross borders too and sometimes they do it to get the guns they use.”
According to CBS News, Clinton’s claim is based on a 2013 ATF report. The key phrase in her description is “per capita.” In other words, this statistic is relative to the size of the state to which the guns are being traced. However CBS notes the actual number of gun under discussion is fairly small:
An ATF report from 2014 put Vermont in the top 15 states whose guns were recovered in New York. Still, it’s worth noting that guns from Vermont are just a tiny fraction of the overall number of out-of-state guns recovered there: that year, Vermont’s guns were 55 of the total 4,585 out-of-state guns. In the same year Georgia was the source for 386 out-of-state guns and 395 were traced to Virginia.
A couple things about this. First, the ATF did rank Vermont in the top 15, but it’s worth noting it came in 15th out of 15. Second, roughly 8 times as many guns traced back to Virginia (or Georgia) as to Vermont, despite the fact those states are much further away while Vermont borders New York. However, since the population of Virginia is around 8.3 million while the population of Vermont is only 600,000 a per capita look produces the statistic Clinton cited.
But again, the actual number of guns coming from Vermont is tiny. In 2014, Vermont supplied 55 guns or 1.2% of all the out-of-state guns the NYPD traced that year. It’s also worth noting, from the same 2014 ATF report, that most of the traces were not connected to violent crime. According to this slide, about half of all the guns traced (both guns that came from NY and out-of-state) were for possession of a weapon. It’s impossible to tell from the ATF report whether any of the 55 guns from Vermont were used in a violent crime.
Clinton’s take on the guns coming in to New York from Vermont may not be false but it is misleading. If she were making a broader point about guns coming from out-of-state Clinton would have more of an argument, but there really is not much justification for focusing her attack on Bernie Sanders’s state beyond the obvious fact that he opposes her in a contentious primary race. Removing all of the guns coming from Vermont to New York would only reduce the number of police traces by 1.2 percent. That small number is unlikely to have a dramatic impact on domestic abuse or drug trafficking in New York.