Tracing guns used in crimes is not easy when the federal agency that monitors gun trafficking can’t share all it knows because of restrictions approved by Congress that are intended, in part, to shield gun dealers from lawsuits, says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Many mayors are banding together to oppose new efforts in Congress to limit access to limit gun trace data permanently from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Police around the nation recover thousands of guns used in crimes every year and try to track their origins through ATF’s National Tracing Center. ATF used to analyze that data routinely and report on trends, such as the fact that a tiny minority of gun dealers sell the majority of guns used in crimes.
Now that kind of intelligence is secret. The reason is that a series of recent gun lobby-backed riders to the bills that fund ATF prohibit the agency from disclosing trace information to anyone but the police department that requests it. That means it’s off limits to researchers, mayors, police in neighboring communities and, apparently, members of Congress. A new bill would would, according to the Justice Department, “effectively criminalize” the sharing of trace data among police departments. Gun control advocates and some federal agents say it could keep law enforcement from “connecting the dots” in battling the black market gun trade. “We’re not serious about guns in this country,” said Joseph Vince, the former head of ATF’s crime gun analysis branch who now runs Crime Gun Solutions, a consulting company. Some mayors have expressed outrage that trace information is restricted. Police departments also have been trying to figure out what they can and can’t do with their own trace data. “Most of the questions reflect a basic fundamental misunderstanding of these relatively new restrictions,” wrote Charles Houser, chief of ATF’s tracing center.