It’s been a quiet few days in the gun violence world. According to our friends at the Gun Violence Archive, since Friday there have only been 200+ shootings resulting in 59 deaths and 144 injuries, what Ralph on The Honeymooners would call a “mere bag of shells.” But I was rescued by the ATF which issued a press release touting the work of its National Tracing Center (NTC) in tracing guns picked up overseas in the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada and several Central American countries. To quote the ATF: “Firearm trace data provides valuable investigative leads and specific trend data for our international partners.” Maybe some Mexican police agency will ask the ATF to trace one of the AK-47’s that the ATF shipped to Mexico between 2006 and 2011, of which at least one thousand are still floating around.
The truth is that the ATF does very little to fight illegal guns except pat itself on the back. And one of its most common back-patting activities involves the tracing of so-called ‘crime’ guns. The ATF has been promoting its prowess in gun tracing since the licensing of commercial firearms sales was placed under its jurisdiction by the Gun Control Act of 1968. And over the years, this tracing activity has yielded, according to the ATF, “critically important information” about the origins of millions of ‘crime’ guns. In 2014, the ATF was able to identify the origin of 174,000 guns – do the arithmetic as Bill Clinton would say, and that adds up to at least a couple of million guns over the last forty-seven years.
The ATF has used this miasma of data to promote to build a basic argument about the commerce in crime guns. I am referring to the notion, repeated ad nauseum by every GVP activist group and GVP-leaning politician, that gun ‘trafficking,’ (i.e., the illegal movement of guns from one location to another) is a major factor in gun violence and needs to be curbed. So I looked at the ATF report which, based on the data generated by the NTC, details the origin of all the traced guns in Massachusetts, which is where I happen to live. In 2014, the NTC was asked to run 1,538 traces of which they could only identify the origin of 979 guns. Of those 979 guns, it turns out that 676 were initially purchased in MA and the surrounding, contiguous states. And all those guns that get trafficked up the I-95 ‘pipeline?’ They accounted for roughly 15% of guns traced in MA. Gee, what a surprise that most of the crime guns in my state came from places which are. at most, a half-hour’s car ride away.
Of course the ATF says they are hamstrung in their efforts to do even more in their unrelenting battle against gun trafficking because they can’t look at how guns move from hand to hand since they can only check a dealer’s gun log which records the very first sale. And this lie is then innocently repeated by GVP advocates who really do want to see an end to the traffic in illegal guns. And why is it a lie? Because the ATF just issued a ruling defining how dealers can keep their records of acquisitions and sales electronically, which means the ATF can easily find out not just the first time that a gun was sold, but every time it was sold in a gun shop. And guess what? In my shop upwards of 40% of my guns were used, and these used guns had previously been sold by me or by some other dealer down the road.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how to search an Excel spreadsheet by any unique identifier and thus gain a much clearer picture on the history of a gun picked up at the scene if a crime. The boys in Fairfax must get a good laugh when they consider the behavior of the agency that regulates guns.