On Tuesday the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) announced that so far in 2017 it had traced the most crime guns in its history.
"ATF Nat'l Tracing Center traced 400,000+ firearms for law enforcement in FY2017 so far, most ever in one year since we started decades ago," the agency tweeted.
The National Tracing Center is the only crime-gun tracing facility in the United States. It is tasked with assisting local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in tracking criminal firearms, mainly by examining shell casings left at crime scenes. The more than 400,000 traces thus far in 2017 far outpace the previous record of 373,349 traces set just last year.
ATF Nat'l Tracing Center traced 400,000+ firearms for law enforcement in FY2017 so far, most ever in one year since we started decades ago pic.twitter.com/NTYVIc1JYs
— ATF HQ (@ATFHQ) September 26, 2017
The tracing process begins when a law enforcement agency recovers a firearm or shell casings at a crime scene. If they recover shell casings, they then ask the ATF to see if shell casings from the firearm involved in the crime they're investigating match shell casings found at other crime scenes. If they recover a firearm, they ask the ATF to track the firearm's history from its manufacture to its path to a consumer and, potentially, its sale on the used market.
The ATF said the tracing process can help develop leads for law enforcement and even identify patterns in illegal gun trafficking.
"That information can help to link a suspect to a firearm in a criminal investigation and identify potential traffickers," a fact sheet on the program explains. "Firearms tracing can detect in-state, interstate and international patterns in the sources and types of crime guns."
While the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Crime in America report showed this week that murder and violent crime are on the rise throughout the United States, the ATF said there isn't a single factor increasing the number of traces.
"There is no one specific reason for the increase," Amanda Hils, an ATF spokesperson, told the Washington Free Beacon. "We are doing more to promote firearms tracing with our partners, and more agencies have utilized the system and found value in this resource."
The agency said it was continuing to work with law enforcement agencies at home and abroad to increase participation in the tracing program.
"We also continue to partner with domestic and international law enforcement partners to use eTrace," Hils said. "Two new international partners signed [memoranda of understandaing] with ATF just this year: the Netherlands Police in June and representatives from Brazil did the same in July. We now have partnerships with more than 6,700 domestic and international agencies for the eTrace system."