Durbin Introduces Legislation to Encourage Tracing of All Gun Crimes

Illinois leads the nation in number of law enforcement agencies participating in the crime gun tracing program

[WASHINGTON, DC] – To help crack down on gun violence and gun trafficking, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced legislation today that would encourage 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. Crime gun tracing can help generate leads in criminal investigations and reveal how guns are trafficked into criminals’ hands.


“One of the most basic tools to fight gun violence is tracing crime guns. Because we already have a federal program that traces crime guns, this important tool costs the police nothing. Yet not every police department or sheriff’s office uses it,” Durbin said. “Solving violent gun crimes and targeting crime gun trafficking networks are among the highest law enforcement priorities for our nation. Increasing the use of crime gun tracing will help law enforcement catch criminals and shut down illegal trafficking organizations.”


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. Crime gun tracing only involves guns that are part of criminal investigations by law enforcement. ATF has described crime gun tracing as a “cornerstone” of its efforts to combat gun crime.


ATF’s online tracing program, eTrace, is made 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.


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.


The 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.


The Crime Gun Tracing Act is co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jack Reed (D-RI) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA).