In early 2017, I filed a public records request with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to answer a simple question: How many guns once owned by police departments had been found at crime scenes? The Freedom of Information Act request was part of a collaboration between Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and KUT, the public radio station in Austin, Texas, examining the police practice of reselling retired service weapons to the public. I wanted to know whether the behavior was arming the criminals that officers had sworn to stop. In response to my request, an ATF spokesperson told me that former police guns were indeed ending up in crimes — but refused to provide any additional details.
It’s a common result for journalists who are seeking information on crime guns. Every year, the ATF produces thousands of trace reports at the request of local law enforcement agencies. These reports, which detail the provenance of crime guns, including their first owner and point of sale — live in a massive database, and present an incredible resource for journalists, policymakers, and regular citizens who want to know how guns move from the marketplace to crime scenes. But for nearly two decades, the ATF has blocked their release. [full article]