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National Editorials & Columns

Track criminal guns to source

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is urging expanded use of gun tracing programs in this country, and if there is a flaw in his logic, it is an assumption that most Americans favor the idea.

They will like it more, we feel, once it’s explained to them.

Clearly, a lot of people are worried about their gun rights and having themselves subjected to unnecessary government scrutiny. Time and again in recent years, we’ve watched as gun and ammunition sales zoomed under suspicion that the current administration wants to “take away our guns.”

On that notion, we understand: Under the Obama presidency there has been more effort to create roadblocks to gun ownership than any of his predecessors.

On the issue of gun tracing, though, we think our senator has it right. The nation has the ability to track the source of guns used in many crimes, and we believe more police agencies should take advantage of the technology.

The theory is this: Tracing allows police to track guns used in violent crimes from their manufacturer to their first retail purchaser and can generate leads in criminal investigations, perhaps even showing how guns are trafficked.

When law enforcement agencies recover a gun during a criminal investigation, they can submit information about the weapon’s details, including serial number, to the National Tracing Center. The center can trace the chain of custody from manufacturer to first legal purchaser, which can help generate leads in criminal investigations.

Local police departments can submit crime gun trace requests using ATF’s free Internet-based tracing system called eTrace. The database does not maintain information dealing with law-abiding gun owners or the firearms they own, Durbin said.

While there are more than 800 enforcement agencies in Illinois, fewer than half are registered with the system, he said.

Durbin’s bill, the Crime Gun Tracing Act, would provide incentives for federal grants to those departments who report every recovered crime gun to the National Tracing Center. And it provides exemptions that would keep small departments with no gun crimes from somehow being grant ineligible.

We wonder how tracking might have proven out if it had been widely available a decade-plus ago, when Durbin first voiced support of the concept.

And we also wonder how successful it still can be if more police agencies sign up to participate now.

The (Alton) Telegraph

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