Millions of firearms records languish at National Tracing Center

Looks like they’re setting the stage to make another pass at pushing for a searchable database/registry of gun owners. I did not know (but am not surprised) that the BATFaggots were accessing the records of the 4473’s that are in their possession to create a digital filecard system.

USA Today – by Kevin Johnson

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Millions of firearm purchase records, potentially critical to tracing guns used in crimes, languish here in scores of cardboard boxes and shipping containers awaiting processing at the government’s National Tracing Center.  

XXX IMG_0071.JPGOfficials estimate that 1.6 million paper documents and other records arrive every month from defunct firearm dealers who are required to ship their business records, some barely discernible, to this Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives facility for eventual inclusion in a digital repository.

Up to 50 times a day, document examiners comb through everything from 1970s-era microfilm to hand-written cards in an effort to satisfy sometimes urgent pleas for assistance from law enforcement agencies from across the country, ATF information specialist Neil Troppman said.

The avalanche of records is a little-noticed yet critical component of a newly escalating firearms debate that underscores both the strained operations of the federal government’s chief gun enforcement agency and the strength of a powerful gun rights lobby intent on preventing the creation of a national gun registry, law enforcement analysts say.

The dysfunctional document management system exists even as ATF examiners are faced with a steadily increasing demand for tracing guns used in crimes — 364,441 requests last year — and as the agency seeks to assist local law enforcement authorities in a number of U.S. cities, including Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Baltimore, where there have been dramatic spikes in gun-related violence.

Troppman said there is no uniform method for delivering gun purchase records from defunct businesses. Consequently, some arrive in the form of bundled hand-printed index cards, on tracing paper, in weathered notebooks and on password-protected hard-drives that appear to have been hastily swept off shop counters and into boxes before the dealers shuttered their doors.

“In some of the boxes, we have found garbage and dirty laundry,” he said.

Ben Hayes, a former ATF official who for more than a decade oversaw parts of the tracing center’s operations, characterized the ever-mounting caches of paper and the archaic records system as something resembling the aftermath of a biblical flood.

“It’s really sad,” Hayes said. “It’s pathetic.”

Although the paper records are eventually transformed into digital images, investigators’ use of the computerized system is strictly limited by federal law that prohibits the creation of a searchable database based on firearms’ purchasers.

Gun rights advocates said the system is merely a reflection of what the government requires defunct gun dealers to do.

“I agree that there is a substantial amount of paper to process, but they (dealers) are providing what is required by law,” said Larry Keane, general counsel for the firearm industry trade association National Shooting Sports Foundation. “There were a lot of mom-and-pops (dealers) out there that didn’t have computer records.”

On the prohibitions against creating a searchable repository of gun owners, National Rifle Association spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said federal authorities already have “the necessary tools to trace firearms used in the commission of crimes.”

“Eliminating search warrants would make it easier for law enforcement to prosecute criminals, but no one is suggesting that we violate the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens in the name of efficiency,” Baker said.

Until 2013, when the Senate confirmed B. Todd Jones as the agency’s director, the ATF had been without permanent leadership for seven years, in part due to opposition mounted by gun rights groups to previous nominee Andrew Traver. Earlier this year, Jones announced his resignation, leaving the job back in the hands of an “acting” director.

David Chipman, a former ATF special agent, said that much of the agency’s inefficiency is tied to the political sway of the powerful gun rights groups who have sought to contain the authority of the ATF. “The gun lobby has been very successful at keeping the ATF as inefficient as possible,” Chipman said.

In most cases, gun traces begin with the submission of basic descriptions of guns recovered at crime scenes to tracing center examiners based in this scenic crease of the Shenandoah Valley, about two hours west of Washington. It identifies a chain of custody that generally runs from manufacturer to the point of sale, if the firearm is purchased at a federally licensed dealer.

For dealers still in business, examiners can then obtain the identity of the purchaser by contacting dealers and providing specific gun identifiers, including serial numbers. But tracing requests for purchases at defunct dealers require a much more involved search.

If the out-of-business dealer’s records have been converted to the ATF’s electronic database, examiners can attempt to locate purchasers by tabbing through digital folders organized by former dealer names and then sort through individual sales records to identify individual buyers.

But thousands of trace requests each year — as many as 18,000 last year, according to the ATF — require document examiners to hand-sort through unprocessed boxes of paper records or attempt to unlock the password-protected hard-drives of newly received computerized documents to establish a gun’s chain of custody. Still hundreds of other requests require examiners to search a darkened library containing 50,000 rolls of microfilm, a repository for tens of millions of purchase records.

Troppman said a California film company is in the process of converting the archaic microfilm library to digital images. But until that project is completed sometime next year, examiners continue to dutifully check individual rolls for analysis on decades-old readers. Because new readers are no longer mass-produced, breakdowns require harvesting parts from older machines or doing without.

As recently as this month, examiners were required to hand-sort through paper records to complete a “urgent” trace request from local authorities. Officials declined to identify the case, though in urgent matters, which involve the highest-profile firearm crimes in the country, examiners attempt to complete the trace within 24 hours. At least once a month, Troppman said, examiners are searching through paper or other raw records in attempts to complete urgent requests. Other “routine” traces take an average of three to five days.

“We’re handcuffing law enforcement by not giving them the tools to do their jobs,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “This is a gigantic issue. It’s endemic to the problems law enforcement has to deal with in their enforcement of gun crimes. The way we do this is so antiquated.”

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11 thoughts on “Millions of firearms records languish at National Tracing Center

  1. “We’re handcuffing law enforcement by not giving them the tools to do their jobs,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “This is a gigantic issue. It’s endemic to the problems law enforcement has to deal with in their enforcement of gun crimes. The way we do this is so antiquated.”

    Awwwwww. Poor wittle gun grabbers. Poor wittle piggies. We should all just feel so sorry for you and throw you a pity party.
    Seems like they already have their database. Sure it consists of 50,000 boxes they have to physically search through but it’s there nonetheless. But just like true communists they get to ignore the law.
    Anybody got a match?

  2. Personally, I assume the federal pigs already know (or can easily find out) what guns I have based on my online ammo purchase records. While I’d prefer that not to be the case, I’m not particularly bothered by it, either. It’s not like I’m just going to cooperate, or wait for the jackboots to come surround me in my house, if they decide to round up all the guns.

    All the talk we often hear about burying guns to avoid confiscation, or telling the confiscators that they were lost in a boating accident, is just plain stupid. Tell them you lost your guns in a boating accident, and they’ll torture you until you tell them where you hid them. Then you’ll be thrown in prison or simply shot.

    If mass gun confiscations ever begin, no one has ANY business doing anything with their guns other than using them. What’s the point of having a Second Amendment at all if there are NO circumstances under which we’ll use it?

  3. I think you hit the nail on the head, Darzak. This is gun registration propaganda.

    “The unending, mountains of paperwork processed by an archaic system won’t let the heroes of law enforcement catch criminals” kind of thing.

    They just want “sensible” reforms that catalog every gun in the country and at what address they can be found, I”m sure.

  4. ““In some of the boxes, we have found garbage and dirty laundry,” he said.”

    And they didn’t see the symbolism or what the gun dealers were trying to convey in all of that?

    ““We’re handcuffing law enforcement by not giving them the tools to do their jobs,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “This is a gigantic issue. It’s endemic to the problems law enforcement has to deal with in their enforcement of gun crimes. The way we do this is so antiquated.””

    Awww……. What part of “SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED” do you not understand, Josh? Take your Commie propaganda elsewhere and we all know you and your Commie pals just want to complain about this so you can setup a national registration database for them. NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!!! SO SORRY!!!

    1. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights gives no person or entities known as “law enforcement” any power over us”.

    2. Even if it did, these “law enforcement” people still don’t need it because they can track down people whenever they want for whatever reason they want if they really wanted to.

    3. The only ones I see doing all of the gun violence are these “law enforcement” people that you want to give more power to.

    Grow up, Josh!

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