How the ATF helps those who wish to restrict our freedom and why are they spinning the data?


By Mike Sweney – Gun Owners’ Action League

November, 2014

Over the last few years we have attended numerous public hearings where the well funded, astro-turf, rights restrictionists have used their first amendment right, to restrict our second amendment rights.

During that time period we’ve definitely noticed an uptick in the use of a few buzz phrases regarding “crime guns” from the antis. These phrases, generated in well funded think tanks come and go, they are one hundred percent used for dramatic effect, to bloviate their opinion. In reality this is what they always fall back on, as there is no truth to the story they are trying to sell.

Let’s take a look at information released by the ATF and illustrate how they enable the misrepresentation of the truth.

Right off the top of the ATF report they have this disclaimer:

ATF Firearms Trace – Data Disclaimer

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Office of Strategic Intelligence and Information

  • Firearm traces are designed to assist law enforcement authorities in conducting investigations by tracking the sale and possession of specific firearms. Law enforcement agencies may request firearms traces for any reason, and those reasons are not necessarily reported to the Federal Government. Not all firearms used in crime are traced and not all firearms traced are used in crime.
  • Firearms selected for tracing are not chosen for purposes of determining which types, makes or models of firearms are used for illicit purposes. The firearms selected do not constitute a random sample and should not be considered representative of the larger universe of all firearms used by criminals, or any subset of that universe. Firearms are normally traced to the first retail seller, and sources reported for firearms traced do not necessarily represent the sources or methods by which firearms in general are acquired for use in crime.

Note the bolded parts of section 1, especially the “Not all firearms used in crime”. Basically the ATF is telling us that they run checks on guns, some of them are evidence and used in crimes, but others, aren’t. Section 2 is also notable in that it points out that they trace the gun back to the original point of sale. There’s no information about how many times the gun legally changes hands after this initial transaction. It simply tells us where the gun was first sold after it left the factory.

This information is important because it’s used against us, read on.

To start, we should examine a couple of the talking points from the other side. The two most oft used; “there’s a river (flood is also frequently used) of guns flowing into Massachusetts from states with lax gun laws”, and “the time to crime gets shorter every year”.

Let’s take a look at the first claim – the proverbial river/flood of guns coming from states with “lax laws”.

In 2013 the ATF traced 1,571 firearms in total for various police agencies in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Remember, this doesn’t mean that 1,571 guns were used in crime, or even seized, just that they were traced.

Of those traced firearms the ATF shows that only 1,024 traces were able to establish the state where the firearm was originally sold. Naturally, Massachusetts was the leading home state for origin with 431, next was New Hampshire with 121, followed by Maine with 91 and Florida with 51.

These numbers are not especially revealing, many MA residents move between the New England states as it’s a small region, also, it’s not unusual to see legal private sales occur between residents of the New England states. Same goes with Florida, lots of MA residents spend part of the year in FL and purchase firearms while they are there, so once again, these number don’t prove anything and surely don’t indicate that there is a river/flood of “crime guns” coming into the state, especially considering that there’s no data indicating if the traced guns were actually used in a crime!

As to the other claim, the “time to crime”. Simply put, it’s nonsense. Of the 1,024 traced firearms only 104 were originally sold within a one-year period.   This completely shreds their disinformation. Less than 10% of the firearms were sold to the original owner within one year, if you break that down even further it shows that only 35 firearms were sold within the last 3 months before a trace. This means that the remaining 920 firearms traced were originally sold more than 2 years before being traced.

Even if we were to believe the vast conspiracy theory information about “straw purchase” gun buying rings being set up in New Hampshire and Vermont in order to supply criminals in MA, we’d have to ask, why are they waiting so long before moving the guns across the border?

Are they buying them, then waiting a year or two before making the illegal transaction? I highly doubt it.

Also, here’s a great example of how the ATF is putting some spin into the report in order to restrict our rights. The graph showing the numbers cited above is titled “Time to Crime Rates for Firearms with a Massachusetts Recovery”.

Why the heck would the ATF claim that the guns were used in a crime and try to give the impression that they were being purchased, then illegally re-sold if they state, “Not all firearms used in crime are traced and not all firearms traced are used in crime”? Also, how would they trace a gun used in crime, if they didn’t have it in their possession and how do they know that the gun even exists?

Seem like misinformation to anyone else? Our tax dollars at work.

Also of note, the top 10 municipalities requesting that firearms are traced are also amongst the 10 most restrictive cities and towns regarding the issuance of LTC’s and especially LTC’s without restrictions. The municipalities include Boston, Attleboro, Fall River, Holyoke, Lawrence, Worcester, New Bedford, Springfield, Brockton and Lynn. Boston requests more than 50% of the traces, 540 in total last year alone, this is interesting because the numbers are weaponized as a means of restricting rights. The anti crowd will look at the 540 guns traced, call them all “crime guns” then claim; “look at all of the guns the Boston Police are tracing, we have a huge problem, we need more laws to stop this.”

They are essentially creating a self-fulfilling problem.

Remember, these traced firearms can and will be considered “crime guns” if they were taken from an unlicensed individual, even if that individual was in their home and had no criminal intent!

As Americans we should expect better from our government, better representation and especially fair and unbiased representation. The information broadcast by the ATF regarding traced firearms is anything but fair. It purposefully paints a picture of guns being acquired illegally and used by criminals. Simply put, this is not the case.

No government entity should be politically motivated or biased – that fact that the ATF is spinning data to assist the freedom restriction agenda is troubling, we need to demand better.

Gun Trace Data – Used to Restrict Your Rights!
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