WASHINGTON, DC – To help crack down on gun violence and gun trafficking, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) has joined with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) in introducing the Crime Gun Tracing Act of 2015, which would encourage law enforcement agencies to take advantage of federal resources available to support crime gun tracing, one of the most powerful crime fighting tools available to target gun trafficking networks and solve violent crimes.

When a firearm is recovered by a law enforcement agency in the course of a criminal investigation, the agency can submit information about the gun to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)’s National Tracing Center.  The Center can trace the chain of custody of the gun from its manufacturer to first legal purchaser, which can help generate leads in criminal investigations and identify broader crime gun trends and trafficking patterns.

“Crime gun tracing is an important tool for law enforcement during criminal investigations, yielding critical evidence for unsolved crimes.  These tools are exponentially more effective when they are widely used across jurisdictions.  This commonsense legislation encourages police departments to utilize the ATF’s free online tracing program, eTrace, to report all guns recovered from crime scenes.  Doing so will help investigators share information, solve more crimes, and shutdown illegal gun trafficking rings,” said Senator Reed.

Law enforcement agencies can sign up and utilize ATF’s eTrace system to submit crime gun trace requests over the internet at no charge and with minimal effort.  In FY2014, the National Tracing Center conducted approximately 360,000 crime gun traces at the request of approximately 5,600 different law enforcement agencies.  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 recovered crime guns.  ATF also now offers 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.  ATF has described crime gun tracing as a “cornerstone” of its efforts to combat gun crime. 

A June 2014 analysis by ProPublica used ATF statistics to find that in 2012, authorities ran traces on 209 crime guns in Rhode Island and of those, 83, or 39.7 percent, were originally purchased outside the state and brought into RI, including 17 crime guns from Massachusetts and 8 from Florida.  Last year, Rhode Island law enforcement traced over 380 crime guns and more than 130 guns have been traced so far in 2015.  ATF reports that so far, 10 Rhode Island law enforcement agencies are using eTrace in the course of crime gun investigations.

The Crime Gun Tracing Act will incentivize law enforcement agencies to report 100 percent of their recovered crime guns to the National Tracing Center.  The bill encourages law enforcement agencies to comply by amending the application form for the federal Community Oriented Policing Services (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.  An accommodation is made for certain circumstances, such as when a small police department did not recover any crime guns in the previous year and had no guns to report. 

Solving violent gun crimes and targeting crime gun trafficking networks are among law enforcement’s highest priorities.  Increased use of crime gun tracing will help law enforcement catch criminals and shut down illegal trafficking organizations. 

A report by the Center for American Progress published in the fall of 2014 analyzed statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and found that from 2002 to 2011, 436 people were killed with guns in Rhode Island.  According to CDC statistics, 56 Rhode Islanders, or 5.3 per 100,000, were killed with a gun in 2013 alone.