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Georgia a leader in Iron Pipeline

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On Aug. 30, 1998, two men walked into a gun show in Kennesaw and, between them, walked out with a total of 20 handguns. Six weeks later and nearly 900 miles away, one of the guns, a 9mm semi-automatic Bryco model-58, was allegedly used to murder 48-year-old pawnbroker Savinder Oberoi in a robbery attempt in Brooklyn, N.Y.

A few hours later, when police tracked the suspect, a member of the Bloods street gang, to a Brooklyn housing project, he allegedly started a shootout, wounding an officer in the hand.

A month earlier, the gun had been used in another bungled robbery attempt. The victim, a 20-year-old Brooklyn man, was shot four times. Ballistics also confirmed that the gun had been used in another homicide, that of a 16-year-old member of the Crips gang, just two days after the first shooting.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms traces all guns used in crimes to their point of purchase. Of the 20 guns that the two men purchased at that Kennesaw gun-show booth, 10 have been recovered on the streets of New York City and designated as "crime guns," used to commit, or used in association with, a crime, ATF officials say.

Because of its relaxed gun laws, Georgia is a major shopping destination along the "Iron Pipeline," the notorious route favored by gunrunners along the I-95 corridor that stretches from Florida through Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia to such northern cities as Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. The pipeline flows in one direction only, from Southern states with permissive gun laws, like Georgia, to states with much stronger restrictions on gun purchases and ownership.

As with the narcotics trade, guns are moved illegally from areas of high supply and easy accessibility to areas of high demand and difficult accessibility. Unlike drugs, the initial purchase of these guns can be done quite legally.

In New York, a potential gun buyer must apply for a gun permit before purchasing each weapon, as well as pass a background check. No permit is needed in Georgia, only proof of state residency and an instant Georgia Bureau of Investigation background check.

Georgia was named as the gunrunning capital of the country in 1994 by Richard Fox, then the ATF's top agent in Atlanta, who said the Peach State ranked as the top source for guns illegally transported to other states. One reason is that Georgia has no restriction on the number of guns that can be purchased at one time.

"More often than not, multiple sales of guns are an indicator of future criminal activity, especially if the guns tend to be cheap 'Saturday Night Special' type of guns," says Dr. Arthur Kellerman, director of the Center for Injury Control with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A study released last week by the Open Society Institute of New York ranked Georgia among the seven states with the least-restrictive gun laws, making our state a popular destination for buyers. There were so many gun shows in Georgia last year that Georgia ATF agents won't even hazard a guess as to the number. Joe Green, spokesman for the ATF in New York jokes, "I have heard that (Georgia has) more gun shows than gas stations."

But changing Georgia's laws has proven more than problematic, thanks to the power of the National Rifle Association.

The NRA remains one of the most powerful lobbies in the state among both Republicans and Democrats. The result is that Georgia is bucking a national trend toward more restrictive gun laws.

Last year, Georgia legislators rushed to make our state the first to pass a law making it illegal for cities to sue gun manufacturers to recover the cost of treating gun-related injuries. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Roy Barnes barely a week after such a lawsuit was filed by Atlanta.

Even moderate gun-control measures usually fail in Georgia, ensuring the state's continued prominence in the Iron Pipeline. Sen. David Scott, D-Atlanta, the annual leader of pro-gun control efforts, blames the NRA.

"In Georgia," he says, "there is such a fine line between the Republican minority and the Democratic majority that the NRA can play the two against one another and they usually get what they want."

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