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Tracing Guns Used in Crimes, Not so Easy

Posted by Vitaly Sigal | Feb 04, 2013 | 0 Comments

Federal law prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from collecting information on or tracking the purchase of guns. In 2003, Rep. Todd Tiahrt of Kansas first attached an amendment, now called the Tiahrt Amendment, to a Justice Department appropriations bill. Rep. Tiahrt served from 1995 until 2011.

The amendment limited the ability of the ATF to give law enforcement agencies information about guns used in crimes, including their serial numbers, manufacturers, sellers and buyers. The amendment specifically prohibited the ATF from creating a national database of guns and gun ownership.

Trying to trace a gun back to its owner or the dealer who sold it is an excruciatingly tedious process today. ATF agents who track the history of the manufacturing, purchase and sale of a gun can give that information only to the single police department that requested it.

"It's not CSI and it's not a sophisticated computer system" said Charles J. Houser, head of the A.T.F, in a Jan. 29 interview with Associated Press writer Alicia A. Caldwell. The way the system works is:

  • Local law enforcement agencies cannot retrieve regional information about guns that have been traced.
  • The ATF can tell local police where state guns that are used to commit crimes came from, but the bureau cannot share information on gun shops or gun buyers.
  • If a police chief wants to know where a gun was bought and from whom, he or she needs to contact individual chiefs at other police departments and request the information.
  • The ATF can give information to the requesting law enforcement agency and sometimes use that information to indicate where other crimes might have been committed
  • The process for tracing a gun is "manually intensive," Houser told the AP, and said it often takes about five days to accomplish a routine case.
  • Sometimes if information hasn't yet been entered into a database it must be sorted through manually. In case of an emergency, such as happened in the recent Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school shooting, the time can be whittled down to about a day if the ATF has one of its agents go to the gun dealer who first sold the weapon and sift through paperwork detailing information on the original buyer.
  • Even though the ATF has facts on millions of records from gun dealers who have gone out of business, the bureau is prevented by law from entering the information into a database recording what guns were sold, who bought them and when they were sold.
  • As it is now, bureau workers need to manually remove staples, turn the papers right-side up and take a digital photo of each record.

The National Rifle Association and other opponents of collecting and sorting data such as Rep. Tiahrt were concerned about gun information being used by people seeking it under the Freedom of Information Act. Tiahrt, in his AP interview, contended that knowing who buys guns legally won't prevent gun violence.

"We're chasing these wisps of smoke that won't solve the problem," he said. "Get to the root cause. Put out the fire. Deal with mental illness. Deal with situational awareness."

There is no limit to the stories of gun violence in Los Angeles. As they told National Public Radio (N.P.R.), teenagers from South Los Angeles, who should be too young to even know of such violence, talk about it in their neighborhood. Young residents of one such South L.A. area at 53rd and Vermont Avenue describe their experiences. The streets there are controlled by at least six gangs, they say.

"There's too many guns out there," one 18-year-old tells N.P.R. "I can tell you right now, every hood has an AK [AK-47]. Regardless of whatever other gun they got, they have an A.K."

As a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney, Vitaly Sigal has extensive experience defending the rights of individuals accused of gun crimes, including violent crimes involving the use of guns. He understands and is highly familiar with the laws governing California gun laws and makes sure that his clients' rights are not violated during the criminal process.

If you or someone you love has been arrested and charged with a gun crime in the Los Angeles area, contact Mr. Sigal today for the best possible representation. He has a proven record of success and is known getting his clients reduced sentences.


About the Author

Vitaly Sigal

Vitaly Sigal Sigal Law Group Owner 355 S. Grand Ave, Suite 2450 Los Angeles, CA 90071 (213) 620-0212 Vitaly Sigal has extensive trial experience and is not afraid to take your case to trial if necessary. From straightforward to complex litigation, Mr. Sigal handles every case with the same i...


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