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Pascrell, Leahy Reintroduce Crime Gun Tracing Modernization Act

On eve of Senate hearing for new ATF chief, bicameral legislation will aid police, bring law enforcement and gun violence tracing into the 21st Century

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09) and U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) today reintroduced the Crime Gun Tracing Modernization Act which will finally give the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) the ability to electronically search for the records of guns used in crimes across the country. This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing to confirm veteran agent David Chipman to by the first permanent ATF Director in six years.

“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. With the Senate set to move on confirming a new ATF Director, this change will give David Chipman the tools he needs to make ATF successful.”

“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,” said Sen. Leahy. “This should not be an impossible task.  ATF receives about 1,700 trace requests each day.  Last year ATF process, 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.”

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 blocked 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 outdated 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 is expected to receive more than 100 million gun sales records, many frayed or in decaying condition. In 2020, the ATF received 490,844 trace requests and processed 68,400,000 paper records. With the ATF receiving approximately 1,700 crime gun traces per day, this paper based system can create serious delays in criminal investigations in jurisdictions in all 50 states. Furthermore, the ATF forecasts an 11% increase in trace requests from 490,884 in FY20 to  approximately 550,000 in FY21. This process 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 floor at the NTC partially caved in and the ATF has been instructed to not store any more physical records in its facility or it may be in danger of further 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.

“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.

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 of America (MCSA), the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), and the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (APA).

A two-page summary of the Crime Gun Tracing Modernization Act is provided here.

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