Boxes of gun transaction records sit in an ATF
warehouse in Martinsburg, W.Va. USA TODAY
Millions of firearm purchase records, potentially critical to tracing guns used in crimes, languish here in scores of cardboard boxes and shipping containers awaiting processing at the government's National Tracing Center.
Officials estimate that 1.6 million paper documents and other records arrive every month from defunct firearm dealers who are required to ship their business records, some barely discernible, to this Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives facility for eventual inclusion in a digital repository.
Analysts sort through boxes to research
weapons. USA TODAY
Up to 50 times a day, document examiners comb through everything from 1970s-era microfilm to hand-written cards in an effort to satisfy sometimes urgent pleas for assistance from law enforcement agencies from across the country, ATF information specialist Neil Troppman said.
The avalanche of records is a little-noticed yet critical component of a newly escalating firearms debate that underscores both the strained operations of the federal government's chief gun enforcement agency and the strength of a powerful gun rights lobby intent on preventing the creation of a national gun registry, law enforcement analysts say.
Loads of gun records await sorting by ATF analysts.
The dysfunctional document management system exists even as ATF examiners are faced with a steadily increasing demand for tracing guns used in crimes — 364,441 requests last year — and as the agency seeks to assist local law enforcement authorities in a number of U.S. cities, including Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Baltimore, where there have been dramatic spikes in gun-related violence.
Troppman said there is no uniform method for delivering gun purchase records from defunct businesses. Consequently, some arrive in the form of bundled hand-printed index cards, on tracing paper, in weathered notebooks and on password-protected hard-drives that appear to have been hastily swept off shop counters and into boxes before the dealers shuttered their doors.
"In some of the boxes, we have found garbage and dirty laundry,'' he said.Read the rest of the story HERE.
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