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.”