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Durbin Pushing Law Enforcement To Use Federal Gun Tracing Resources

(Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio)

US Senator Dick Durbin is proposing a carrot-and-stick approach to encourage police departments in Illinois to trace guns used in crimes.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives runs the internet-based system known as eTrace, which can tell investigators who first purchased the gun and where it was manufactured.  But Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, says just half of the police departments or sheriff’s offices in Illinois use the  system. 

His proposed legislation would give departments that use eTrace on a regular basis priority in receiving federal grants.

"The more information we have about the criminals, their weapons, and their patterns, the easier it is to solve these crimes," he said.

For example, Durbin said, investigators in Chicago learned through eTrace that almost 10 percent of the firearms used in crimes there came from Mississippi.

"Mississippi. What’s going on here? How did these guns get up to Chicago?" Durbin said. "There was a network of people going down to Mississippi, buying guns with [drivers' licenses] which is all you had to show, filling their trunks and heading up Chicago to sell them in the alley at night."

Durbin says he increased participation in eTrace by 30 percent in 2006 after encouraging departments to use it, but that less than half of the police and sheriff’s departments in Illinois are using the system.

The system has its limits - it can only trace the first purchase of a gun from a retailer. Durbin says a failed gun control measure known as the Manchin-Toomey amendment would have made the eTrace system more useful.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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