Thoughts after the Las Vegas massacre

  Photo  by Mariordo (Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz) showing site during final preparations for the Route 91 Harvest Festival

Photo by Mariordo (Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz) showing site during final preparations for the Route 91 Harvest Festival

[This was originally a social media post from Oct 2, 2017]

As we consider how to respond to the horrific attack in #LasVegas, I feel compelled to write this post is to make everyone aware of an important problem with how we investigate legally-purchased guns used to commit crimes. I was not aware of this problem until I heard a recent radio story. Every US Citizen of voting age should be aware of this issue, and it is playing out right now during the ongoing investigation.

CNN posted at 2:35pm today: "An ATF spokesperson told CNN that that Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is 'currently conducting urgent traces on multiple firearms recovered from the scene in Las Vegas.'"

You may logically ask, what are "urgent" traces? Assuming the guns haven't had their serial numbers filed off, wouldn't law enforcement simply ask the #ATF to look up information like the place of purchase and to whom the weapons were sold? How long could it possibly take to find such basic information, especially on an urgent investigation? I can get a credit check for a new department store credit card in less than a minute. I can hand my driver's license and car registration to a highway cop and they check the info on the laptop in their patrol car in a matter of minutes.

But with a responsibility as solemn as owning a gun, here in a country that claims to want to give law enforcement all the tools they need, the process is mind-bogglingly difficult or impossible. Tracing a gun in the ATF's records at their facility in Martinsburg, WV would be more efficient and technologically up-to-date if it were managed by the tools available to your local school librarian.

Why?

Because of enormous pressure from the #GunLobby, and therefore, because of #Congress. The agency quite literally has to use 1950s technology. If you support police and want them to be able to do their jobs effectively, you should ask your elected representatives in congress to change this law.
From the VICE News article linked below:

The ATF's record-keeping system lacks certain basic functionalities standard to every other database created in the modern age. Despite its vast size, and importance to crime fighters, it is less sophisticated than an online card catalog maintained by a small town public library.
To perform a search, ATF investigators must find the specific index number of a former dealer, then search records chronologically for records of the exact gun they seek. They may review thousands of images in a search before they find the weapon they are looking for. That's because dealer records are required to be "non-searchable" under federal law. Keyword searches, or sorting by date or any other field, are strictly prohibited.
...
Congress imposes conflicting directives on the ATF. The agency is required to trace guns, but it must use inefficient procedures and obsolete technology. Lawmakers in effect tell the agency to do a job but badly.
...
The ATF processes a high number of trace requests: 372,992 last year [2015] alone. The agency says a trace takes on average four to seven business days to complete.
If it wasn't for the ban on consolidating data into a searchable system, the ATF could create a database that allowed investigators to immediately check the sales history of any gun used in a crime.
...Vizzard, the former ATF special agent, says that by shackling the agency, Congress is hindering police investigations. 'It's a 1950s record-keeping system in 2016,' he said. 'It's as though your bank still didn't have a computer.'

The process of running a trace can be a bit more efficient if the gun dealer has not gone out of business, but still involves ATF contacting the manufacturer, who in turn checks its records to find the wholesaler, whom the ATF contacts to find out the retailer, whom the ATF then asks for the required information from form 4473. Dealers themselves (not the ATF or another agency) are required to keep these records. And when dealers go out of business, those PAPER records (no matter how poorly maintained, or even waterlogged as with countless records from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina) arrive by the truckload to the ATF in Martinsburg.

This is because it is against the law to create a "national gun registry."

And, therefore, it could take four to seven days (or longer, or never) to find out where the guns came from that were used in the attack in Las Vegas last night.

Right now, the authorities are saying the shooter likely acted alone.

We'd better hope so.

Even if he did act alone, knowing where and how he purchased the firearms (even if they were legally purchased) will be an important part of the investigation and prevention of future attacks.

And the "urgent trace" part of the investigation is laughably inefficient.

I don't know about you, but I'm not laughing.
--

Here are some relevant sources.

VICE News article from 2016, quoted above: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/wdbd9y/the-atfs-nonsensical-non-searchable-gun-databases-explained-392

from USA TODAY in 2015: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/10/27/firearms-national-tracing-center-atf/74401060/

from NPR in 2013: http://www.npr.org/2013/05/20/185530763/the-low-tech-way-guns-get-traced