Durbin, Dart: Law Enforcement Agencies Should Trace All Crime Guns

[CHICAGO] – To help crack down on gun violence and gun trafficking, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart today called on law enforcement agencies to take full advantage of federal crime gun tracing resources, one of the most powerful crime fighting tools available to target gun trafficking networks and solve violent crimes. They discussed legislation that Durbin is introducing in the Senate and a first-of-its-kind training initiative to prepare police departments to pursue gun tracing in crime investigations which can yield critical evidence for unsolved crimes and intelligence in the fight against gun traffickers.

“For years, Sheriff Dart and I have been urging greater use of crime gun tracing as a tool to catch criminals and gun traffickers. Gun violence is a complicated problem, and there is no one solution that will stop all the tragic shootings. But with good intelligence about crime guns, we can solve crimes and stop gun traffickers. Crime gun tracing is free, it is easy, and working together we can get this done,” Durbin said. “Lawmakers in Washington need to do our part as well – that’s why I’m introducing the Crime Gun Tracing Act, to help move us towards 100 percent tracing of crime guns for every law enforcement agency nationwide.”

"Gun tracing should be enhanced across the board, whether through increased access to training or new policies incentivizing law enforcement to work with the ATF," said Sheriff Dart. "Senator Durbin's proposed legislation is a commonsense measure that will make it significantly more difficult for violent criminals to hide within the shadows of the black market."

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 and show broader crime gun trends and trafficking patterns. ATF has described crime gun tracing as a “cornerstone” of its efforts to combat gun crime.

ATF’s online tracing program, eTrace, makes available for free to any law enforcement agency that signs up for it. eTrace allows gun trace requests to be sent to ATF quickly over the internet and provides a searchable database that police departments and sheriffs can use to analyze all gun traces and gun crimes in their jurisdiction. Today less than a third of agencies nationwide have signed up to use eTrace, and not all agencies that have signed up are tracing all of their guns. ATF also now makes available a new eTrace feature called "Collective Data Sharing" which allows local law enforcement agencies to opt-in to sharing trace results with other local agencies in the state in order to better coordinate criminal and trafficking investigations.

In partnership with the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), the Cook County Sheriff's Office is leading a comprehensive gun tracing seminar for Cook County law enforcement agencies. The June 30 training will educate dozens of police agencies on how the use of eTrace technology and collective data sharing can be leveraged to generate investigative leads in shooting cases and identify illegal gun traffickers. Sheriff Dart convened the seminar as part of his ongoing effort to enhance the investigative strategies for suburban police agencies and recruit additional agencies to trace their crime guns.

Durbin's Crime Gun Tracing Act aims to incentivize each of the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies to report all of their recovered crime guns to ATF for tracing. The legislation would amend the grant application form for the federal COPS grant program to require law enforcement applicants to specify: (1) how many crime guns they recovered in the last year; (2) how many of those guns they submitted to ATF for tracing; and (3) the reason why any recovered guns were not submitted. The bill would then create a grant preference in awarding COPS grants, where feasible, to applicants that have submitted all of their crime guns recovered in the last year to ATF for tracing. The “where feasible” language would accommodate circumstances such as when a small police department did not recover any crime guns that year and had no guns to report.

Since Durbin first introduced crime gun tracing legislation in 2013, the number of agencies in Illinois using eTrace has risen from 392 to 451 – the highest number of participating agencies in the nation. Last year Illinois law enforcement traced over 11,500 crime guns and more than 6,200 guns have been traced so far in 2015. ATF reports that so far 81 of the 451 Illinois law enforcement agencies that use eTrace have opted into Collective Data Sharing.