05.24.18

Leahy And Nelson Introduce The Crime Gun Tracing Modernization Act

… bill has the support of law enforcement groups and the March For Our Lives organization

WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, May 24, 2018) -- Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) on Thursday introduced the Crime Gun Tracing Modernization Act, a bill to modernize crime gun tracing capabilities.

Under current law, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is barred from electronically searching gun records, and must comb through hundreds of millions of records manually, delaying criminal investigations around the country that depend on ATF to trace guns found at crime scenes to solve those crimes.

The Leahy bill would empower ATF to trace guns using 21st Century techniques, aiding law enforcement authorities in catching criminals faster and potentially saving lives. The bill is supported by key law enforcement organizations and by the student leaders of the March For Our Lives organization.

Leahy said: “Americans would rightly be shocked and appalled to know that the ATF is prohibited from electronically searching sales records when tracing guns used in crimes. This bill is a commonsense crime-fighting reform to end this antiquated and nonsensical restriction. It would permit electronic searches of records that ATF already has access to but cannot quickly search due to absurd hurdles in the law.”

In a letter to Leahy and Nelson, Charlie Mirsky of March For Our Lives said, “I wish to express our utmost support for the Crime Gun Tracing Modernization Act.” He continued: “Law enforcement officers should no longer be forced to wade through cardboard boxes in an often-vain attempt to locate gun records.”

Mirsky continued: “It is vital to note that the Crime Gun Tracing Modernization Act does not empower the government to obtain any new information; it proposes no new regulations or bureaucracy. The bill provides for the digitization of records that are currently stored on paper – bringing existing records into the 21st Century.” He concluded, “The impact of such a simple change is substantial.”

Leahy’s statement as he introduced the bill is available BELOW, and the full text of the legislation is available HERE.

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
On the introduction of the Crime Gun Tracing Modernization Act of 2018

May 24, 2018

Right now, in a small town in West Virginia 90 miles outside of our nation’s capital, dedicated employees of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) are diligently searching through millions of firearms sales records at the National Tracing Center. They are busily responding to urgent requests from detectives and agents to trace firearms found at crime scenes throughout the country. By the end of the day, they will likely have completed more than 1,000 requests, providing law enforcement with information that can lead to arrests, prosecutions, and ultimately justice for victims of violent crime.

The tracing center plays a critical and unique role in keeping our communities safe. It is the only crime gun tracing facility in the country. Its sole purpose is to help track down and hold criminals accountable.

One would expect Congress to fully and unequivocally support this mission. Yet, inexplicably, Congress has done the opposite. Relenting to pressure from the gun lobby, Congress placed archaic hurdles on crime gun traces, prohibiting the ATF from digitizing or electronically searching through firearms records.

These restrictions were born out of an unfounded fear that can only be described as a conspiracy theory: that allowing records to be electronically searched would lead to firearms—presumably to include my own—being seized by the government en masse, in clear violation of both the Second and Fourth Amendments.

This unworldly fear is having a very real-world impact. In an era when an electronic trace could be completed in an instant, the ATF is instead forced to locate individual records by visiting federal firearms licensees or searching by hand through the records housed at the National Tracing Center; these National Tracing Center records currently number 800 million, and are growing by an additional 2 million each month.

Some of these records have been damaged by flooding and mold. Countless more have been relegated to rented shipping containers in the parking lot, as the floor of the tracing center is structurally unable to support the weight of so many thousands of boxes. Other records are stored as images on microfilm, forcing ATF employees to reel through up to 10,000 records on a single roll to find the one desired firearm.

Tracing requests are processed every single day, 24 hours a day, so that when a homicide detective finds a firearm believed to have been used in a murder, the detective can determine the chain of custody for that firearm, which may lead to a suspect.

I asked the ATF about the impact of these restrictions on crime gun traces at a recent hearing of the Judiciary Committee. Acting Director Thomas Brandon stated that in these criminal investigations, “time matters, [and] getting accurate information can develop the critical lead.” He testified that if the ATF were able to electronically search through records it would be “beneficial for public safety.”

I agree. That is why today I am introducing the Crime Gun Tracing Modernization Act, which will bring our nation’s tracing capabilities into the 21st century. This legislation would empower the ATF to digitize and electronically search through its firearms records, so that it can quickly and accurately connect crime guns with purchasers. Yet this legislation is also narrowly tailored; it only permits the ATF to search through firearms sale and disposition records that it already has access to, and only for the purposes of criminal and national security investigations, and it strictly prohibits searches using an individual’s name or other personally identifiable information.

This legislation represents only a modest step, but an important step. There are few signs more revealing of Congress’s inability to responsibly legislate gun policy than its insistence that law enforcement not be allowed to effectively search through records already in its possession. The gun lobby cannot be permitted to tie the hands of agents and detectives investigating violent gun crime. We cannot let a baseless conspiracy theory drive our public safety policies.

It is time for Congress to fix our mistakes. It is time to bring one of our nation’s premier law enforcement agencies, which in turn serves every federal, state, and local agency in the country, out of the Stone Age. It is no surprise that this legislation is supported by important voices within the law enforcement community, including the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, Major Cities Chiefs Association, and Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

I am also proud that March For Our Lives, led by the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, strongly supports this legislation. We in Congress owe it to those who have been victimized by gun violence to do something. There are many commonsense steps we can and should take right now. That includes removing indefensible restrictions on law enforcement that waste public safety resources and delay critical investigations of violent gun crime. I urge my fellow senators to join me and Senator Nelson in supporting this important legislation.

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