Is the New York SAFE Act working?

Statistics show mixed impact
Posted at 2:14 PM, Jul 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-31 14:19:36-04

New York Congressman Chris Collins (R) is launching legislation that would effectively repeal the New York SAFE Act, and prevent similar laws from going in place across the nation.

The SAFE Act has been controversial since it's signing in 2013. Many republicans agree with Collins that the SAFE Act encroaches on second amendment rights, while proponents believe the law helps keep people safe.

The constitutionality argument has, mostly, been resolved: In 2016, the Supreme Court refused to hear a legal challenge on the assault weapons ban contained in the law after a lower court upheld not only the New York ban, but a similar Connecticut ban on assault weapons.

But is the law working as intended? The numbers we have so far are mixed at best.


Firearm-related violent crime has fallen since 2013, but it was already falling

If you only look at the number of firearm-related violent crimes since 2013, you would see, generally, a drop in the number of violent crimes statewide, although the number did rise slightly last year.

But the overall number of firearm-related violent crime has been consistently falling since 2006, well before the SAFE Act.

Those numbers are quite a bit more mixed on the local level. Erie County's overall trend is similar to the state at large -- a drop in crime from about 2006 onward, although that drop appears to be stalling in recent years. Niagara County is heading in the opposite direction -- with firearm related crimes largely rising since 2007

These charts make it quite difficult to see the actual impact of the SAFE Act. We don't know whether statewide firearm-related violent crimes would have continued dropping at the same rate without the SAFE Act, and Niagara County's uptick in firearm-related violent crime began before the SAFE Act went into place.

In reality, three different outcomes are all plausible:

  • The SAFE Act is largely having no impact, as there have been no major changes in crime rate since 2013.
  • The SAFE Act is helping continue the drop in firearm-related violent crimes statewide.
  • It's unclear, because three years is too short of a time to tell any kind of long-term trend.


The number of "SAFE Act" charges is large, but not all are "new" charges

State numbers show more than 11,000 people have been charged under the SAFE Act since 2013. But most of these charges were crimes before the SAFE Act, 81% in 2015 according to the Albany Democrat and Chronicle, and a similarly high number in 2014 according to the Post Standard.

That does mean, though, that roughly 2,200 or so of those charges were not illegal before the SAFE Act.

It is worth noting that many of the 11,000 charges are enhanced from what they would have been before the SAFE Act. For example, an illegal, unloaded handgun was a Class A misdemeanor before, and now could be a felony.

But whether that charge in enhanced seems to largely fall on where you live, and were much more likely in New York City than the rest of the state, according to the Democrat and Chronicle analysis.


Most guns used in New York State crimes come from elsewhere...and are 10+ years old

Last year, the New York Attorney General's office released a "New York Gun Analysis" where they found that about 3 in 4 "crime guns" recovered by law enforcement were originally bought from out of the state. Even more, they found that more than half of those "Crime guns" were 10 years old, and about 12% were bought more than 30 years ago.

What does that all mean? The report estimated that about 20% of "crime guns" were "recently trafficked" from other states, and in only 6% of all cases were the guns recovered from the original purchaser of the gun. The report concluded that New York gun traffickers choose "states with weak gun laws to get their guns."

It's worth noting, guns in Western New York were more likely to have been bought in state than in New York City, but that number was still above 60% for Erie and Niagara counties.