Leahy, Pascrell, King Introduce Crime Gun Tracing Modernization Act

. . . Bipartisan legislation at long last will bring law enforcement tracing into the 21st Century

WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, Feb. 27, 2020) -- U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and U.S. Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09) and Peter King (R-NY-02) Thursday introduced the Crime Gun Tracing Modernization Act which will finally give the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) the ability to electronically search for the records of guns used in crimes across the country.

Sen. Leahy said:  “When law enforcement finds a gun at a crime scene, they contact the ATF to determine who last owned the firearm.  Quickly placing this information in the hands of law enforcement can solve crimes and save lives.  Yet, inexplicably, absurd hurdles in the law force ATF officials to manually search through millions of sales records to conduct a trace.  The ATF receives 1,600 crime gun trace requests each day from law enforcement, and this nonsensical restriction is nothing less than a public safety hazard.  It needs to end, and this bipartisan legislation would do just that.”

The bill is drawn from legislation that Leahy authored and introduced in the last Congress.  Leahy is a leading member and past chairman of the Judiciary Committee and currently is the Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

“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, the ATF is literally banned from using computers to trace firearms used in crimes. Every moment after a crime is committed matters desperately to police solving the crime.  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 simple but vital change will help prevent crime, it will save lives, and will create needed efficiency. It is an absolute no-brainer and should be ratified into law this year.”

“This legislation will allow ATF agents to use their time more efficiently and will free-up much needed resources for the agency,” said Rep. King.

Several organizations that endorse the bill said today:

“The Major County Sheriffs of America supports [this] legislation,” said Peter J. Koutoujian, Sheriff of Middlesex County (Massachusetts) and President of the Major County Sheriffs of America. “Currently, when our agencies makes a request to the ATF for assistance tracing a gun that was used in the commission of a crime, ATF personnel have to manually search through millions of paper files to determine if they have the relevant information. That manual search takes up valuable time – often days – that could otherwise by used by law enforcement to generate investigative leads. Digitization of those records would enable more efficient searching and quicker responses by ATF to our offices’ requests.”

“The MCCA is proud to support the Crime Gun Tracing Modernization Act of 2020,” said Art Acevedo, Chief of the Houston Police Department and President, Major Cities Chiefs Association “By bringing ATFs gun tracing capabilities into the 21st century through automation, the gun tracing process will be expedited by creating an electronic, searchable records database while also establishing protections to ensure the privacy rights of responsible, law abiding, firearm owners. The MCCA fully endorses and supports this long overdue legislation that will help local law enforcement get dangerous, violent criminals off of our streets.”

“In the 21st Century, the ability to rapidly track and identify evidence is paramount to finding, identifying, and apprehending suspects.  It is long overdue that the ATF be given the mandate to ensure all their records are accessible to law enforcement. With this bill, we can work together to better prosecute violent criminals,” said Lazaro “Larry” Cosme, the National President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.

“Under this legislation, ATF agents could use their time more efficiently and could expedite the tracing of crime guns, which often reveals critical information that advances Federal, state, and local law enforcement investigations. This will keep communities in this country safer and more secure, and the APA is proud to support this bill,” said David LaBahn, President of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

After a firearm associated with a crime is discovered somewhere in the United States, Federal, state, or local law enforcement officials contact the ATF, which then must re-create the chain of custody of the firearm. Yet for decades the ATF has been banned by law from digitizing millions of gun sales records already in the ATF’s possession so they can be searched by computers at its National Tracing Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia, the only federal facility that maintains gun sales records in the U.S.  This restriction requires sifting through the ATF’s mountains of paper records, a laborious process that delays investigations and drains law enforcement resources.

This year the ATF will receive more than 100 million gun sales records, many frayed or in decaying condition. With the ATF receiving approximately 1,600 crime gun traces per day, this system can create serious delays in criminal investigations in jurisdictions in all 50 states. This system has overwhelmed the 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 the 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 the 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 and public safety advocates, including the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA), Major County Sheriffs Association (MCSA), the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (APA), and March for Our Lives.

The text of the bill is available HERE and a Fact Sheet is available HERE.

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