Time is of the essence when it comes to gun crimes. But law enforcement officials are currently hindered by a law preventing the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from conducting electronic searches of gun sales records already in the ATF’s possession.
The Crime Gun Tracing Modernization Act, introduced by Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr., along with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Rep. Peter King (R-NY), would give ATF agents the ability to electronically search for the records of guns used in crimes across the country.
“Americans would be appalled at the state of crime gun tracing in America today,” said Rep. Pascrell, the co-chair of the Congressional Law Enforcement Caucus. “Law enforcement in every state and town in America share one hard goal: solving crimes as expeditiously as possible to keep their communities safe.”
This bipartisan legislation would provide a simple, narrow change in the law to allow the ATF to electronically search crime gun sales records already in its possession. The law would neither expand the universe of records the ATF is permitted to access, nor allow the ATF to search for information it already has access to.
Leahy described the current law as a public safety hazard, while King explained it will free up ATF resources.
Pascrell noted every moment after a crime is committed matters desperately to law enforcement.
“This simple but vital change will help prevent crime, it will save lives, and will create needed efficiency,” said Pascrell. “It is an absolute no-brainer and should be ratified into law this year.”
Officials conducting investigations need to know who last owned the firearm. The ATF receive more than 1,600 crime gun trace requests each day from law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S.
The current process involves ATF agents sorting through paper sales records to re-create the chain of custody of the firearm. Conducting these manual searches cause delays in investigations and the apprehension of suspects. The ATF is currently banned by law from digitizing millions of gun sales records already in their possession.
Digitizing gun sale records would free up ATF resources, as well as eliminate the risk of impeding investigations that are delayed by the wait for gun search records.
It is anticipated that the ATF will receive more than 100 million gun sales records in 2020, and the agency is simply running out of storage space. The ATF has been instructed to not store any more physical records in National Tracing Center in Martinsburg, WV, the only federal facility that maintains gun sales records in the U.S. This facility is in danger of a partial floor collapse.
While the act will create an electronic, searchable records database, it also has protections to ensure the privacy rights of responsible, law abiding, firearm owners. The legislation will allow ATF searches for criminal and national security investigations only and for no other purpose.
The legislation is endorsed by numerous law enforcement groups and public safety advocates, including the Major Cities Chiefs Association, Major County Sheriffs Association, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and March for Our Lives.