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Thank you for this informative email (JPFO alert 10/26/09).
Now I have a question to ask you.
Are you aware that the BATFE has for several years been aggressively offering eTrace to local law enforcement agencies? They have the agency sign a memorandum of agreement and then the agency can run traces on any firearm they wish. The catch is that the agency has to agree to run a trace on ALL CRIME GUNS. The MOU defines a CRIME GUN as:
"The parties agree that a ‘crime gun’ is defined as "any firearm that is illegally possessed, used in a crime, taken into police custody, or suspected by law enforcement officials of having been used in a crime."
The key word in this definition is "taken into police custody." I have been a law enforcement officer for over thirty years and held positions up to the rank of Detective Commander. Only a very small portion of firearms that are taken into custody could possibly be considered a "crime gun." TV and movies aside, we run into very few "smoking gun" cases where we have a firearm left at the scene a crime, and it is a rare instance that knowing who was the first lawful purchaser of a firearm would serve any investigatory purpose. We take hundreds of firearms into custody as found property, safe-keeping, recovered-stolen or in possession of individuals who have been arrested. In all those cases, including arrests, it is of very little consequence who bought the gun from Acme Sporting Goods ten years ago.
If you expand the term "taken into police custody" to include any firearm that an LEO has temporary custody, such on a traffic stop of an otherwise lawful firearms owner, you could literally be running traces on hundreds of guns for no legitimate purpose. For larger department it could run into the thousands.
I first heard of this program in a meeting with the local U.S. Attorney and BATFE. I asked them if we could have the software and only trace firearms when we needed to know their origin. I was told that they wanted a trace done on ALL firearms and that if we only wanted to do a few, we could do it the "old" way by making a request to the local field office. In other words, we want all the gun traced that we can. When I told them that was a waste of valuable police resources, they changed the subject.
As far as I am concerned, eTrace is a fraud perpetrated by the BATFE to swindle Congress and the public out of funding for a program which serves very little legitimate purposes.
I recall watching a congressional budget hearing on CSPAN a few years ago where the director of the BATFE was telling the audience that they were receiving an increasing number of requests for firearms tracing from law enforcement agencies and needed more funding to accommodate them. Funny that they never mentioned that they were begging for the traces to be run. You can also see on their webpage how they brag how successful the etrace program is.
An "unintended consequence" of having law enforcement trace all the guns they come in contact with is that a good number of these firearms end up traced back to local FFLs. As you know, when an FFL has a certain number of "CRIME GUNS" traced back to them, they can be put on some sort of probation and are subject to increased record keeping and sharing requirements. This is grossly unfair to the dealers as the majority of firearms traced have been purchased legally and have not been used to commit a crime.
I thought you would find this information interesting. Please feel free to contact me for verification or further information.
Police Commander (Retired)