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NEW YORK (AFP) – More than 200 firearms, from .22 caliber pistols to a submachine gun, have been seized in what New York called Monday the biggest seizure of illegal guns in the city’s history.

In a statement, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration hailed the undercover operation as proof its hard line on guns — and controversial stop-and-frisk police tactics — work.

“New York is the safest big city in the nation,” said Bloomberg, an outspoken advocate for tougher gun laws across the United States.

“But year after year, illegal guns flow into our city from states that don’t have common-sense laws that keep guns out of the hands of criminals,” he said. “There is no doubt that the seizure of these guns — the largest bust in the city’s history — has saved lives.”

The guns seized originated from the southern states of North Carolina and South Carolina — a 12-hour drive to New York along Interstate 95.

No permit is needed to buy a rifle or shotgun in either state, and South Carolina doesn’t require permits for a handgun either.

Sales of assault rifles in both states are unrestricted.

Among the weapons seized included a fully automatic Cobray nine-millimeter submachine gun with 30-round high capacity magazine and three assault pistols with flash suppressors and high-capacity magazines that hold 30-plus rounds.

Also taken off the streets was a 7.62 x 39 millimeter assault rifle manufactured by Chinese arms conglomerate Norinco. Resembling the iconic AK-47 rifle, it sells for around $400 through online gun brokers in the United States.

Of the 19 people charged, three were already in custody on unrelated charges. The others were picked up in New York, North Carolina and South Carolina in a series of arrests from August 2.

Stung by the rejection of New York’s controversial stop-and-frisk law last week by a federal judge who deemed it unconstitutional, Bloomberg’s administration stressed how one suspect expressed jitters about the tactic in a phone call picked up by an court-authorized wiretap.

“I can’t take [the guns] to my house, to my side of town, ’cause I’m in Brownsville,” a low-income and predominantly African-American section of Brooklyn, the suspect said. “So we got, like, whatchamacallit, stop and frisk.”

Stop-and-frisk sees New York police officers briefly detaining anyone they feel is on the threshold of committing a crime — but critics say the tactic is used excessively against young African-American and Hispanic males and yields relatively few arrests.

Bloomberg, who is winding up his third and final term as mayor of the city of 8.2 million — where police permits are required to buy or carry any kind of gun — has said he would appeal last week’s federal court decision.

As the head of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the billionaire media tycoon has campaigned vigorously for tougher national and state gun laws, defying gun advocates like the National Rifle Association who insist that Americans’ right “to keep and bear arms” is enshrined in the Constitution.

Last week Bloomberg credited stop-and-frisk with taking some 8,000 guns off New York streets over the past decade.

In July, Bloomberg’s administration and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said 90 percent of guns used in crimes in New York in 2011 came from out of state.

Last December’s massacre of 20 school children in Newtown, Connecticut, about 90 minutes from New York, prompted calls for tougher U.S. guns laws — but also a surge in sales as gun enthusiasts scrambled to arm themselves in anticipation of a ban that never came.

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