NEW YORK -- Behind the 30 percent drop in murders and shootings reported in New York City this year is a startling development: Drug dealers and gang members have apparently begun to leave their guns at home.
Police department and federal law enforcement officials say that gunplay has decreased from the South Bronx to the Rockaways, partly as a result of the tightening of local and federal gun-control regulations and crackdowns on youth gangs.
But more than anything else, federal and local officials say, it is the increase in police friskings for such minor violations as loud radio playing and public beer drinking that has discouraged people from carrying unregistered guns.
Civil liberties advocates are strongly critical of the department's new emphasis on frisking, complaining that police single out minorities in poor neighborhoods and in public housing projects.
But, while there are still an estimated 2 million illegal guns floating around the city, and despite a spate of heavily publicized shootings in the past few weeks, both statistical and anecdotal evidence show that police assertiveness is having an impact on gun violence.
The number of reported murders by handgun in the city through June 30 dropped by 40.7 percent from last year, even more than the overall 31 percent decrease in murders. By July 16, the police reported 733 fewer shooting incidents than during the same period last year, and 818 fewer shooting victims.
Two years ago, one out of every 438 people arrested for subway fare evasion was found to be carrying a loaded gun. This year, as police stepped up their surveillance of turnstiles, only one out of every 1,034 arrested was carrying a loaded gun.
While total arrests are up 27 percent this year, gun arrests are actually down 17 percent, according to the police department.
"It appears the tremendous decrease in shootings and the apparent fact that less people are carrying guns is due to the general enforcement effort of the department," said Thomas A. Reppetto, president of the Citizens Crime Commission, who is preparing a detailed analysis of New York police gun strategies.
"Criminals see a lot of cops around and say, 'I don't think I should be carrying my gun.' "