05.25.21

Leahy And Pascrell Renew Senate And House Push For Crime Gun Tracing Modernization Act To Bring ATF Into The 21st Century

(TUESDAY, May 25, 2021) --  Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Representative Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NJ-09) Tuesday reintroduced the Crime Gun Tracing Modernization Act of 2021, their bill to modernize the capabilities of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to trace crime guns.

After a firearm associated with a crime is discovered somewhere in the United States, federal, state or local law enforcement officials contact ATF, which then must recreate the chain of custody of the firearm.  But ATF is prohibited by law from electronically searching millions of gun sales records already in its possession.  The absurd result is that ATF must comb through mountains of paper records manually, an extremely laborious process that delays timely investigations and drains law enforcement resources.  Their legislation would update this process from the age of paper records to the age of electronic records, to enable electronic searching of these same records, aiding law enforcement authorities in catching criminals faster and potentially saving lives.

Earlier this month The New York Times highlighted this problem, which is centered within ATF’s National Tracing Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia.  Crippling restrictions on ATF have severely impeded its ability to efficiently inventory and quickly search the sales records of crime guns.  The ever-growing collection of paper records at the National Tracing Center, which can be digitized but by law cannot be made electronically searchable, have become so voluminous that the floor has actually buckled under the weight of the paper records.

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on President Biden’s nominee to serve as the next Director of the ATF, David Chipman.  Only one ATF director has been confirmed by the Senate in the last 15 years.

Leahy said:  “The National Tracing Center at the ATF is responsible for quickly placing crime gun ownership information into the hands of law enforcement officials so they can solve crimes and save lives.  This should not be an impossible task.  ATF receives about 1,700 trace requests each day.  Last year, ATF processed nearly 500,000 trace requests and this year, they are on track to reach over 550,000 requests—an 11 percent increase in just one year.  It is way overdue for Congress to allow ATF to move into the 21st Century to help catch criminals who use guns to kill, maim or steal.  We must put an end to these needless restrictions and give ATF the capability to electronically search crime gun records.”

“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.  “Because of an anachronistic law imposed at the behest of the NRA, the ATF is literally banned from using computers to trace firearms used in crimes.  Every moment after a crime is committed matters dearly to police.  Law enforcement in every state and town in America share one goal: solving crimes as expeditiously as possible to keep their communities safe.  This simple change will help prevent crime, it will save lives, and will create needed efficiency.  After decades of being hamstrung by extremist NRA policies, the ATF must be given the authority to do its job.”

“Crime gun tracing is an important tool that helps law enforcement generate investigative leads. The current process is slow and inefficient, as current law requires the ATF to search its records manually. The Crime Gun Tracing Modernization Act of 2021 will automate this process while instituting protections to ensure that law-abiding gun owners' privacy and rights are safeguarded. This long overdue legislation will help the ATF more efficiently provide valuable investigative information to local law enforcement, which in turn will be used to help get dangerous, violent criminals off of our streets,” said Chief Art Acevedo, Chief of Police of the Miami Police Department and President of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

“The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) sits at the critical junction of protecting the American people’s 2nd Amendment rights and the American people’s right to be free from violence. To maintain this crucial balance, ATF needs the right tools to succeed - tools that are modern and capable. The need to update computerized records is more than overdo.  At this point, failing to equip ATF with these modern technologies is an act of malfeasance. This legislation was needed yesterday. We appreciate Senator Leahy and Rep. Pascrell’s leadership on this important safety issue,” said Larry Cosme, President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.

Additional Background on the Leahy-Pascrell Crime Gun Tracing Modernization Act:

ATF has processed nearly 70 million physical gun sales records, many frayed or in decaying condition.  With ATF receiving about 1,700 crime gun traces per day, this system can create serious delays in criminal investigations in jurisdictions in all 50 states, overwhelming ATF with millions of pieces of paper that are now stored in boxes in the facility’s closets, hallways, and even in storage lockers resting in the parking lot.  The situation has gotten so bad that ATF has been instructed to not store any more physical records in its facility or it may be in danger of partial floor collapse.

The Crime Gun Tracing Modernization Act 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 ATF to search for information it already has access to.  Importantly, the legislation will allow ATF searches for criminal and national security investigations only and for no other purpose.

The Crime Gun Tracing Modernization Act is endorsed by numerous law enforcement groups including the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA), Major County Sheriffs Association (MCSA), the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), and the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (APA).

The full text of the legislation is available here. A summary of the legislation is available here.

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