The brands of 9-mm guns linked to law enforcement investigations are varied, ranging from Glocks and Berettas to Smith & Wessons and Sig Sauers.
“Nines,” as they’re commonly called, are among the best-selling guns among Americans in general — a trend that includes the hundreds of law enforcement agencies with personnel who carry them, authorities say.
But it is the 9-mm’s popularity among criminals that has police and anti-violence advocates concerned. The weapon, they say, is too readily available on the black market, driving their prices down and making them more attractive to felons unable to legally purchase firearms.
“This is the type of gun that is causing the greatest damage to our communities, and therefore needs to be pursued more aggressively in underground gun markets,” said Delia Bell-Powell, a civil rights and anti-violence activist in St. Louis, who works with community activists in the tri-state area, including on Long Island, to help curb gun violence. “People say if you seize a large number of illegal 9 millimeters, criminals will just find another gun they like to replace it. To that I say, ‘So be it.’ We’ll deal with one gun at a time, because each seizure or turned-in weapon could save a life.”
An examination of New York State gun trace records and 2013 federal gun-trace data from all 50 states — information that is compiled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — found:
More than 336,000 guns were traced by the ATF in 2013 as part of local, state, and federal criminal investigations.
672 violent crimes recorded on Long Island in 2013 involved a gun, down slightly from the 692 gun-related crimes in 2012. Several hundred of those 2013 crimes involved 9-mm models, police estimated, more than any other type of gun. A more precise total was not available.
556 guns were traced by ATF as part of criminal investigations by Nassau County Police in 2013, up from 492 in 2012. In Suffolk, ATF traced 379 guns as part of criminal investigations by county police in 2013, up from 300 in 2012.
Nearly 1.7 million 9-mm guns were manufactured in the United States between Jan. 1 and July 14 this year, the most of any type of pistol, federal records show. The second most manufactured pistol was the .50 caliber, of which more than 1.2 million were domestically produced during that same period.
19,601 federally licensed guns were recorded lost or stolen in the nation in 2013, including 3,174 in New York alone. The frequency with which firearms are lost and stolen helps explain how guns purchased legally sometimes fall into the hands of criminals, authorities say.
Twenty-two caliber guns are the second-most commonly traced firearm linked to criminal investigations in New York State. It is the most frequently traced gun in a total of 17 states.
ATF performs traces at its National Tracing Center in West Virginia, hailed by the agency as the only American facility authorized to trace domestic and foreign guns for international, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The center helps law enforcement agencies solve gun crimes, uncover gun trafficking and identify trends involving movement of guns linked to crimes.
Among those guns, 9-mm’s are the most prevalent, records show. But the reasons for their popularity are varied.
For some, 9-mm guns are ideal due to their combined attributes of accuracy, ease-of-use and compact size, authorities say. Others choose them because they are so plentiful.
Above all, criminals flock to 9-mm guns because they are “glorified” in television and movies, said Det. Sgt. Patrick Ryder, head of the Nassau police intelligence division.
“Every single cop show you watch, good guy or bad guy, they always carry a nine,” Ryder said. “Bad guys love them because they get to rack the slide back and show off just like the gangsters do on TV.”
Nine-millimeter guns are also popular with terrorists and dictators, having played an outsized role in recent global news events. Al-Qaida-linked operatives have been caught overseas carrying nines.
The guns are also a favorite of terror organizations such as Islamic State, Hamas and Hezbollah, according to a federal law enforcement source.
Deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was carrying a 9-mm when American troops found him hiding in an underground hole in 2003. And Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi was reportedly carrying a gold 9-mm when he was fatally wounded.
The gun that took Gadhafi down? A 9-mm.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a thug in New York or the Middle East,” the source said. “Chances are, you’re carrying a nine. For nine out of ten [criminals], that’s their go-to [weapon].”
The 9-mm also has been used in several mass shootings. Jared Lee Loughner used one when he killed six people and wounded 13 others, including former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, in Tucson, Arizona, in January 2011.
Seung Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, used a 9-mm as well as a .22-caliber to kill 32 people and wound 17 others in April 2007 before committing suicide.
Both 9-mm guns were manufactured by the Austria-based company Glock, the world’s largest pistol manufacturer. A Glock representative could not be reached for comment on this story.
Locally, 9-mm guns of all models have been traced to infamous killings, including the murder of NYPD Officer Peter Figoski of West Babylon. On Dec. 12, 2011, Figoski was one of the first officers to respond to a 2 a.m. call in East New York, where a five-man robbery crew had targeted a small-time drug dealer living in a basement apartment.
One of the fleeing robbers, Lamont Pride, 28, shot Figoski outside the apartment. Pride was convicted of murder and burglary and sentenced to 45 years to life; most of the other defendants received sentences of up to 25 years to life.
In another high-profile case, a Nassau police officer accidentally shot and killed Hofstra University junior Andrea Rebello, 21, in May 2013 while firing at Dalton Smith, 30, who had taken Rebello hostage with a loaded 9-mm. Smith was also killed by the officer.
James Alan Fox, a criminologist and professor at Northeastern University in Boston, said the 9-mm has been buoyed by the same kind of buzz typically reserved for trendy new restaurants or fashion designs.
“As is true with all sorts of things from food to clothing, certain items become more popular because of word of mouth,” said Fox, an expert on gun violence. “There’s almost a fetish element with some items, and that would probably include the 9-mm.”