Setting the Record Straight E-mail

This data tracks the transfer of a firearm from the manufacturer to the gun’s first purchaser and can assist law enforcement in ultimately pinpointing the individual who used the gun to commit a particular crime.

During the investigation of the recent Virginia Tech incident, ATF provided the Virginia State Police with trace information that allowed the agency to determine where and from whom Seung-Hui Cho purchased the two handguns he used in the shootings.

Firearms trace information was also used to solve a theft of 22 firearms from a security service in Atlanta that were subsequently purchased by an undercover police officer on the streets of New York.

The ATF considers this information law-enforcement-sensitive because it is often the first investigative lead in a case.

We treat it no differently than fingerprint matches and other crime-scene information, since disclosure outside of law enforcement can tip off criminals to the investigation, compromise cases and endanger the lives of undercover officers, witnesses and confidential sources.

Our agency routinely shares trace data with state and local law-enforcement agencies in support of investigations within their respective jurisdictions.
Once a requesting agency receives law-enforcement-sensitive trace data from ATF, it becomes the agency’s data to disseminate and share with other law-enforcement entities as it deems appropriate. Let me be clear – neither the congressional language nor ATF rules prohibit the sharing of trace data with law enforcement conducting criminal investigations, or place any restrictions on the sharing of trace data with other jurisdictions once it is in the hands of state or local law enforcement. In fact, multi-jurisdictional trace data is also utilized by ATF and shared with fellow law-enforcement agencies to identify firearm-trafficking trends and leads. Additionally, nothing prohibits ATF from releasing our own reports that analyze trace-data trends that could be used by law enforcement.

ATF has a proud tradition of supporting its law-enforcement partners at every level of government.

We will continue to provide them with the information they need to protect our communities from individuals who would use firearms to further illegal activity. Congress has recognized ATF’s crucial role in that investigative process and has protected our ability to share that sensitive data with law enforcement.

The restriction did nothing more than to codify ATF’s longstanding policy of sharing trace data with other law-enforcement agencies for the purpose of conducting a criminal investigation.

Our priority will continue to be to release trace data in a manner consistent with our longstanding policy, and to support the over 17,000 federal, state, local and foreign law-enforcement agencies that avail themselves of this crucial tool.

– Michael J. Sullivan
Acting Director, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)
U.S. Department of Justice


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