Durbin Bill Urges Law Enforcement to Take Advantage of Federal Gun Tracing Resources

Senator Introduces Bill Tying Participation to COPS Grants, Writes to Illinois Agencies Encouraging the Tracing of Recovered Crime Guns

[CHICAGO] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today called on law enforcement agencies to take advantage of the federal gun tracing resources available to help them crack down on gun violence.  Durbin announced he is introducing a bill that creates strong incentives for law enforcement agencies to report 100 percent of the crime guns they recover to the ATF National Tracing Center, a practice many agencies do not currently follow.  Crime gun tracing can help generate leads in criminal investigations and reveal how guns are trafficked into criminals’ hands.


“Crime gun tracing is one of the most basic and powerful tools available to law enforcement as they investigate violent crimes, yet less than half the agencies in Illinois and only one-third of the agencies across the nation take advantage of this free federal resource.  The information gleaned from a trace can help generate leads in identifying the person who used the gun to commit a crime and, when all guns in an area are traced, it can help law enforcement identify broader crime gun trends and trafficking patterns,” Durbin said.  “Today I am introducing a bill that will aid that fight by encouraging law enforcement to trace every single gun used in a violent crime.”


"I'm pleased to support Senator Durbin's efforts to move closer to the complete tracing of all crime guns,” said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.  “The goals of this bill are similar to those of my work in Cook County encouraging local law enforcement to trace all crime guns.  With comprehensive tracing, we will have a better understanding of how crime guns are trafficked and will have more opportunities to stem gun violence in Cook County and throughout the country." 


“It is vitally important to trace all recovered firearms,” said Jens Ludwig, Director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab.  “Every trace has the potential to yield important information – important clues – that could help law enforcement solve gun crimes and more importantly to prevent future gun crimes. Failing to trace all recovered guns leaves critical law enforcement leads unexplored and valuable information untapped. Senator Durbin's bill would increase the likelihood that law enforcement agencies do the right thing and trace all recovered guns.”


When law enforcement agencies recover a gun during a criminal investigation, they can submit information about the weapon’s manufacturer, model and serial number to the National Tracing Center, which is administered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).  The National Tracing Center can trace the chain of custody of the gun from manufacturer to first legal purchaser, which can help generate leads in criminal investigations. The ATF has described crime gun tracing as a “cornerstone” of its efforts to combat gun crime. 


Local police departments and sheriff offices can submit crime gun trace requests using ATF’s free internet-based tracing system called eTrace.  In addition to providing trace information on individual firearms, eTrace provides law enforcement agencies with the ability to analyze a searchable database of every crime gun trace request they have submitted.  The database also compiles information on the place where the gun was first bought, the type of crime the gun was used to commit, the recovery location, and the name of the criminal found in possession of the gun. The eTrace database does not maintain any information dealing with law-abiding gun owners or the firearms they own.


Durbin’s bill, the Crime Gun Tracing Act, incentivizes the reporting of every recovered crime gun to the National Tracing Center.  The legislation amends the application form for the federal COPS grant program, which provides funding for a variety of community policing strategies, to require applicant law enforcement agencies to specify three things:


  • How many crime guns they recovered in the last year
  • How many of those guns were submitted to the ATF for tracing
  • The reason why any recovered guns were not submitted


The bill then creates a preference in awarding COPS grants to those law enforcement agencies who submitted every recovered crime gun for tracing in the previous year.  It contains exceptions for special circumstances such as small police departments who did not recover any crime guns.


Today, Durbin will be sending a letter to every law enforcement agency in Illinois that has yet to sign up for eTrace.  Though there are more than 800 police departments and sheriff’s offices across Illinois, only 392 of those are currently registered with the system. (See attached letter.)


Durbin began calling for 100 percent crime gun tracing in Illinois fifteen years ago.  In 2006, after learning about the then-newly-created eTrace program, Durbin sent letters to Illinois sheriff offices and police departments encouraging their participation.  At the time the letter was sent, approximately 150 Illinois law enforcement agencies were participating in the eTrace program.  Within a few months, eTrace participation in the state increased by approximately 30 percent. 


Last year, the National Tracing Center conducted approximately 344,000 crime gun traces.  However, only about 4,700 of the roughly 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the county have signed up for eTrace.