New Jersey Makes It Easier To Trace Crime Guns But The ATF Could Make It Easier Still.

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A serious and long-overdue step has finally been taken in New Jersey with a decision by the State Attorney General to require that every law enforcement agency participate in the ATF’s data-sharing program on gun traces known as eTrace.  What this means is that when any agency in Jersey asks ATF to run a trace on a gun, unless otherwise directed for reasons of confidentiality, the information will be shared by every police department throughout the state. The purpose of this new procedure, according to the directive sent out by the AG, is to enhance law enforcement’s ability to combat gun violence and trafficking by “identifying statewide patterns in sources and types of guns, as well as unlawful purchasers and firearm traffickers.”

ATF logo             The good news about this directive is that it serves notice on every agency in New Jersey that conducting a trace request is now a mandatory activity, not just something that a police department may or may not choose to do. The biggest problem with enforcement of gun laws is that the ATF, which has total regulatory authority over the gun business at the federal level, has no authority to tell a local law-enforcement agency what it can and cannot do with guns picked up at a crime scene – some agencies run traces, others don’t, it’s a typical hodge-podge which reflects the federal-state division of authority that has been the hallmark of our legal system since a bunch of guys sweated through a hot Philadelphia summer in 1787 and produced the Constitution of the United States.

That was then, and this is now.  The 2nd Amendment notwithstanding, you couldn’t just walk into a gun shop in the olden days and buy a gun.  There weren’t any guns and there weren’t any gun shops. Most Americans owned some kind of gun back then, but for the most part these guns were old-style muskets manufactured one at a time and useful for protecting livestock from Mister Wolf or Mister Fox, but not much more.

In 2016 there were 375 homicides in New Jersey, most of them because of illegal guns. And don’t for one minute think that this violence was only a function of the inner-city ghettos like Newark and Camden; the Jersey shore county, Ocean, was right up there too. New Jersey has one of the strictest permit laws for buying a handgun, but the state suffers from an unusually-high number of crime guns which were first sold in other states. In 2012, four out of five guns traced in New Jersey came from some other state.

The problem with this eTrace program, however, is that even when the Jersey cops learn that a crime gun was first sold in Pennsylvania or Virginia or wherever, they still have no idea how the gun got from there to here. So, the idea that giving all police departments access to the same trace information about a particular gun doesn’t really solve the problem of determining the extent and flow of crime guns.

If the ATF is really serious about helping local law enforcement agencies combat gun crimes, I have a simple suggestion that could be implemented without requiring the cooperation of a single police department at all. Let’s not forget that the ATF has total regulatory authority over the behavior of every, single gun dealer whose shops are the initial source of every, single gun that is ever traced. And many guns that are stolen and trafficked from one state to another, often wind up back in a gun shop because gun dealers are always willing to fork over some cash and buy a used gun.

What the ATF should do is require that any dealer who wants to take in a used gun must first make sure that the weapon hasn’t been previously reported as a stolen gun. It’s not a foolproof system, obviously, but at least it would reduce the extent to which gun dealers play a role, unwittingly or not, in the movement of crime guns. Giving licensed dealers access to eTrace is long overdue.


Why Do I Own Guns? Because I Like To Own Guns.


I bought my first real gun in Florida when I was 12 years old.  A beautiful Smith & Wesson 38. Got it in a flea market somewhere on Highway 441.  Owned that gun for about 30 minutes until my Uncle Nat took it away from me and probably hocked it the next day.  He was right.  What the hell was a twelve-year old kid doing walking around with a gun?


              Star 30-M

Star 30-M

This purchase began a life-long addiction to guns which continues to this day.  Or at least until yesterday, when I walked into Dave’s Gun Shop and bought a Star Model 30M, a heavy, all-steel pistol that holds 15 rounds.  Why did I buy the gun?  Because I wanted to buy a gun.  Why does my wife buy shoes?  Because she likes shoes.

If I were a typical gun guy, I would tell you that I bought this gun because it’s good for self-defense.  I don’t often, if ever, carry a gun. Guns are lying around the house but none are close enough to be grabbed up if an intruder were to suddenly burst through the door, but I know that owning a gun makes me safer, which is why I bought the gun.

Actually, that’s not true.  I didn’t go into a gun shop yesterday because I was thinking about my personal safety. I didn’t walk up to the counter, take one look at that Star pistol and decide that this gun would protect me from crime. I certainly didn’t for one second imagine that buying that gun would somehow make me ‘free.’  I bought the gun because I wanted to buy a gun.

This may have been the third time I owned this gun.  I had a Star 30M back in the mid-90’s; sold it to some guy in my gun shop who then sold it back because he needed a set of tires for his truck; sold it later to another guy who probably at some point traded it at Dave’s shop where it was sitting when I made it mine.  You don’t see a Star 30M all that often, and it’s not as if the gun, or any gun for that matter, ever wears out. If this gun had been picked up at a crime scene instead of being sold to me, the ATF trace would show that the gun went into private hands somewhere around 1995.  But it went into private hands and then back into an FFL inventory at least two more times over the intervening twenty years.  So much for the value of ATF traces and as well as the nonsensical discussions about Time to Crime.

On the NRA website, Wayne LaPierre tells the NRA membership that “nothing would make us more vulnerable to generations of suffering and slaughter than the destruction of our 2nd Amendment.”  There’s about as much reality behind this statement as the idea that I bought that Star pistol to protect myself from crime.  I live in a White, middle class neighborhood – if anyone ever tried to break into my house it would probably be my drunk neighbor who thought he had come home and forgot his keys.

I have personally owned, bought and sold, probably 500 guns over the course of my lifetime, and I can say that in all those transactions going back to 1956, I never once asked myself why I needed any particular gun. But if someone were to ask me why I bought and sold all those guns, I might rattle off something about crime, or terrorism, or my Constitutional ‘rights.’ After all, I have to come up with some kind of answer, and it’s not as if people who don’t like guns can offer me a clue.

In crafting sensible solutions to gun violence, my friends in the GVP community have to understand that any new law will force me to somehow change this impulsive habit.  And when was the last time you stayed on that low carbs diet?





The ATF Issues A New Report On Gun Traces And Once Again They Get It Wrong.

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Here they go again – patting themselves on the back for the good work they do protecting America from the scourge of gun violence.  We do have a scourge of gun violence, but whether the ATF does anything in response to this problem other than releasing self-congratulatory and misleading reports remains to be seen.  The latest such missive, the ATF annual Firearms Trace Data, covers 2014 and Is advertised on the ATF website as containing “critically important information.” This sounds impressive, but let’s spend some time trying to understand exactly whether this ‘critically important’ information has any bearing at all on efforts by law enforcement agencies to deal with gun violence.

atf                In 2014 the ATF traced 246,000 guns, of which 175,000 were handguns, 65,000 were rifles and shotguns, 245 were “unknown types,” (I love that category), the remainder various pieces of crap.  Here’s how a trace works.  The cops get a gun and then send a trace request to the ATF which includes the manufacturer and serial number and the reason why the gun is being traced. The ATF then contacts the manufacturer and a paper trail from factory to distributor to dealer to first buyer is created by contacting each point in the trail in turn.

Of course once the gun leaves the shop with the initial buyer, that’s it.  And the ATF has absolutely no way of knowing whether the gun being traced was sold to someone else, or stolen, or ‘trafficked,’ – a meaningless word if I ever heard one – or whatever.  The ATF keeps a missing/stolen list of guns but the only people required to report such guns to this list are federally-licensed gun dealers.

In addition to describing the gun, the agency making the trace request must also specify the reason for the request.  Here’s where things get very interesting.  There are 64 different reasons why a trace is made, ranging from homicide and aggravated assault to such serious threats to community safety as abortion, bribery, election laws (I’m serious), forgery, gambling and the greatest scourge of all – found firearm.  This last category by itself covered more than 22,000 traces in 2014; i.e., nearly 10% of all traces.  Of the 246,000 total traces conducted by our intrepid ATF in the process of protecting us from gun violence, I’m being generous by saying that 25% involved guns picked up during or after the commission of serious crimes.  Yea, yea, I know.  All those other guns might have been used in serious crimes, and I might actually go on a diet later today.  In my state, Massachusetts, the cops asked the ATF to trace roughly 1,200 guns.  Know how many were associated with violent crimes like homicide and assault?  44 guns.  That’s five percent.

Along with telling us which gun shops sold all these crime guns, the ATF report also discloses another pile of data that is indispensable in the fight against gun crime, namely, what the ATF refers to as ‘Time-To-Crime;’ i.e., how long between when the traced gun was sold and when it was traced, the idea being that guns that are purchased as ‘straw sales’ will end up being used in crimes more quickly than guns sold to law-abiding purchasers.  In 2014, the ATF says that TTC was just under 11 years.  So if a bunch of guns came from a gun shop with a much briefer TTC, obviously this is a shop where something nefarious is going on.

Let me break the news to the ATF gently. The firearms inventory of most gun shops consists of 30%-40% used guns.  Since TTC is only calculated on the initial sale, the TTC numbers are off by a factor of 30% to 40%,.  Want to base public policy on data that might be 40% incorrect?  I don’t.

I have no issue with regulating a consumer product that is as lethal and dangerous as a gun.  But the regulators should at least know something about how the industry operates they are regulating.  The ATF trace report proves that they don’t.




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