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Pascrell and Feinstein Reintroduce Legislation to Allow ATF to Use Computers for Crime Gun Tracing

Bicameral Crime Gun Tracing Modernization Act will aid police across America, bring law enforcement tracing into the 21st Century

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09), the co-chair of the Congressional Law Enforcement Caucus, and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) 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.

“Americans would be appalled at the state of crime gun tracing in America,” said Rep. Pascrell. “Because of a nonsensical 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 share one goal: solving crimes as expeditiously as possible to keep their communities safe. This small, simple change will help police do their jobs combating crime. It will save lives and create needed efficiency. After decades of being hamstrung by extremist NRA policies, the ATF must be given the authority to do its job.”

“It’s ludicrous that current law prevents the ATF from using computers to conduct a swift and thorough investigation when a gun is used in a crime,” said Sen. Feinstein. “We need to give ATF agents all the tools necessary to track guns used by criminals, not tie their hands behind their back. Modernizing the ATF’s records will not only speed up investigations, it will ultimately save lives.”

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Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia, the only federal facility that maintains gun sales records in the U.S.  This outdated restriction requires sifting through the ATF’s mountains of paper records, a laborious process that delays investigations and drains law enforcement resources.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.

“The Major County Sheriffs of America (MCSA) appreciates efforts to help our agencies get timely and relevant information regarding violent gun crime investigations. We commend Congressman Pascrell and Senator Feinstein for introducing the Crime Gun Tracing Modernization Act which would simply digitize paper records that ATF already has in its possession. This will enable quicker data retrieval compared to the current manual time-consuming process when state and local agencies request gun traces related to specific criminal investigations,” said Megan Noland, Executive Director of the Major County Sheriffs of America (MCSA).  

“The MCCA is proud to endorse the Crime Gun Tracing Modernization Act of 2023 and thanks Sen. Feinstein and Rep. Pascrell for reintroducing this important legislation. Crime gun tracing is a critical tool that provides valuable investigative information. However, this can be a slow and inefficient process, as current law requires the ATF to search its records manually. This legislation will automate this process while instituting protections to safeguard law-abiding gun owners' privacy and rights,” said Eddie Garcia, Chief of the Dallas Police Department and President of the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA).

“Violent criminals are getting more sophisticated and better at covering their tracks, specifically with firearms use. As a result, federal law enforcement needs modern tools to trace the movement of illegal weapons. With an electronically searchable record of firearms used in illegal activity across the country, ATF can better identify and target criminals who use firearms to wreak havoc on their communities. Making it easier to track illegal firearms is better for all Americans, especially those who use firearms lawfully, by ensuring federal law enforcement can identify and isolate illegal weapons. We applaud Congressman Bill Pascrell for reigniting the effort to move this bill in the new Congress and look forward to supporting its passage,” said Larry Cosme, President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA).

“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 the measures in this bill,” said David LaBahn, President of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (APA).

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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