Work on Rochester crime gun trace report continues

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The first comprehensive crime gun trace report for Rochester is in the works. It could spell improvement for a city that has seen a dramatic rise in rates of firearm violence.

“You have people saying, ‘We need to follow the data.’ But then when we talk about gun data, they say, ‘That’s not going to help stop the crime and violence in our community,’” City Councilmember Willie Lightfoot said at the latest Roc Against Gun Violence Coalition meeting. “Well, data actually has helped and will help Rochester like it helped cities (anti-gun violence organization) Brady has worked with in the past.”

A gun trace data report relies on the Firearms Trace system run by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. Using make, model and serial number data, it can trace a gun from its manufacturer to its distributor to its last retail seller. A trace can often be a good lead in an investigation for law enforcement.

But with research indicating 90 percent of crime guns come from 5 percent of dealers, there is much more potential to solve supply-side issues in that information, the bipartisan Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence believes.

“This data is a first step and not a solution in (and) of itself, but it’s true we should be following the data when it comes to gun violence prevention,” Josh Schraff, legal counsel and director for programs at Brady, said at the meeting. “(The report) is a building block to be able to get this data out to the community so that the community itself can start taking a look at solutions that will be most effective for Rochester.”

Similar gun trace reports Brady has completed in Chicago, Los Angeles, and the states of Pennsylvania and New York identified potential problem shops, tracked the “time to crime” of a firearm, and revealed geographic patterns in the traffic of illegal guns.

In Los Angeles, it was found that relatively affluent areas such as Pasadena, Burbank, and Glendale were among the top suppliers of firearms used in crimes in less-affluent South Los Angeles.

“This disparity, that oftentimes white, wealthier communities are shipping the guns to poor communities of color—that can be very important when we look at how to address gun violence in California,” said Steve Lindley, program manager at Brady and former chief of the California Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms.

However, demonstrating how different each geographic region can be, a trace report of Pennsylvania found that most crime gun suppliers came from the metro areas of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

“Just because firearms may be trafficked into Rochester in one way does not mean that they’re being trafficked into Buffalo that same way or that they are trafficked into Los Angeles or Chicago or Kansas City or wherever it may be in that same way,” Schraff said. “So, that’s why locally aggregated data is particularly important to communities.”

An earlier report on New York found that in Monroe County, compared with the rest of New York, crime guns traced were less likely to come from out of state and more likely to have short “time-to-crime” rates. In addition, there were fewer recoveries of handguns versus other types of firearms. The forthcoming gun trace report will have even further focused information.

Brady first began working on this gun trace project for Rochester pro bono about a year ago. The city of Rochester and the Rochester Police Department have been helpful partners in this endeavor, with Lightfoot mentioning that the RPD has hired an analyst to help digitize the data.

Still, Brady experts say the difficulty of converting formats as well as historical roadblocks from gun lobbies have delayed their final analysis work.

“It used to be quite easy to get access to trace data at the national level,” Schraff said. “About two decades ago, gun industry sponsored legislation passed through Congress that made it much more difficult for that data to be released by the federal government. While (the data) is really rich—it’s used by ATF in a variety of different ways—it unfortunately is not out in the public and is not in the hands of researchers or community activists.”

The organization hopes that by the first quarter of 2023, a final report with data and several business or policy recommendations will be complete. Brady’s overarching plan to prevent gun violence includes expanding background checks, restricting bump stocks, outlawing ghost and 3D guns, and abolishing the Tiahrt Amendment, which blocks data such as gun tracing from being in public.

Aligning with those goals, Lightfoot hopes this report can help to support legislation for a gun-dealer code of conduct as well as a public-facing data portal.

“I can’t emphasize enough the re-commitment from the current mayor to continue this and to get this work done because one of the things I think we all can agree on is we need a gun trace data report,” Lightfoot said. “I think everybody can agree just on getting up-to-date information so that we can create real-time, common-sense solutions.” 

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer. The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name.

4 thoughts on “Work on Rochester crime gun trace report continues

  1. The answer to Josh Porte’s question—Why not publish those who are the culprits?—is in the story itself: The money and political influence of gun makers and sellers brought us the Tiahrt Amendment in 2003. Federal gun-tracing information may be disclosed only to law enforcement agencies, and if it is disclosed, it may not be used in a lawsuit against a gun dealer. If “law-abiding gun owners” genuinely wanted to identify and avoid the sellers responsible for disproportionate numbers of crime guns, why did the National Rifle Association ignore the objections of law enforcement groups and support the Tiahrt Amendment when Republicans pushed it through Congress? Since 2003, gun owners’ pressure groups could easily have persuaded Congress to repeal the Tiahrt Amendment if they really wanted accountability for irresponsible dealers, but instead they have supported protecting the bad apples by maintaining secrecy.

  2. “90% of crime guns come from 5% of the dealers.” That’s an interesting piece of information. It’s also an opportunity. Why not publish those who are the culprits? Why not let us legal and law abiding gun owners know about those dealers? We would gladly avoid those who chose to do business under the table, so to speak. While that appears to be obvious, what is the reason for not sharing the 5% with the reader? If one has the statistic, one has the information, so why not share the information? Unless, of course, it just makes good reading.

    And then, let me close with my usual answer to guns and crime. We need to educate. We need to address the failing RCSD. The system. Not the teachers and not even the students. I place much of it at the feet of the RCSD system that will not teach the way kids learn. The foundational solution to crime, drugs etc. etc. is an education. How many kids or young adults that are caught up in crime have a master degree in education? Or how many kids with a certificate in a specialty? Do a survey on the level of education associated with those who do the crime and serve the time. Please fix the SYSTEM! Please.

  3. I fully support the effort to gather data on the pathways for guns that ultimately end up used in criminal activity. I hope the data includes whether any given gun was stolen or not. However, guns are useless without ammunition. We need creative ways such as micro-stamping and stricter controls on how much ammunition can be sold in a single transaction and extend delays between purchases. We also need tougher laws on who can purchase ammunition and re-loading equipment and supplies. We also need legislators to look at illegal gun enhancements with more severe consequences for offenders. Sadly in a rush to gain political points, the Governor and legislature passed uninformed gun restrictions. Those restrictions are being challenged in court, and undoubtedly the state will lose. I am particularly concerned about the foolish ban on civilians purchasing bulletproof vests during increased gun violence. Once again, pass an enhanced sentencing requirement on individuals using body armor during the commission of a crime, and don’t keep civilians who may feel at risk from being able to protect themselves. Candidly, I’m doubtful that legislation or guidelines crafted to reduce current gun violence are doomed to fail. We are dealing with an out-of-control wildfire resulting from many years of social, educational, and economic policy failures. We need to let this cohort burn itself out while at the same time Implementing renewed efforts to address root causes afflicting the next group of young people, so they have faith in a future of possibilities and hope.

    • What do you think fuels the gun violence in Rochester or the nation as a whole? It’s education. We lose thousands to the streets in Rochester, NT because of a failing RCSD….period. When those kids drop out, what will they do, where will they go? The street. That simple. We create our own woes in Rochester. How many youthfully offenders have a degree of any kind? None. They don’t know the basic rule on the use of a screw driver….righty tidy, lefty loosie. When you have no developed skills, no education, you have youth that are bored and that leads to nothing but trouble. It’s really that simple. The most asked question of a person dropping out of school is, “what do I need this S— for anyway?” All one has to do is answer their question, show them professions and or careers during their K-12 journey. But no….the RCSD keeps the professions and careers a secret. They then either drop out or graduate with no direction. This is not rocket science and I tire of pointing that out.

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