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ATF Gun Site Sparks State Finger Pointing

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By Allan Holmes August 27, 2007

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The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has released data to the public showing where guns, many of which used in violent crimes, come from. Now the public can go to the ATF Firearms Trace Data site to find out what kind of guns were used in what kind of violent crime and from which states those guns came. It takes a bit of clicking through the site to find out which states are the biggest supplier of guns, but it eventually becomes clear: Southern states (namely Texas, Georgia and Virginia) and California.

That information is important to states like New York, according to an editorial in NYDailyNews.com. Of the 6,085 guns traced in New York in 2006, only 29 percent came from a New York gun dealer, according to the ATF gun tracing Web site. The rest of the guns found their way to New York from other states. Those states, in descending order, were: Virginia, Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

ATF is prohibited form releasing the names of the gun dealers in those states, but ATF gives that information to law enforcement agencies -- when they ask for it.

As illustrated by the Daily News editorial, this information could provide the fuel for a hot political fight among states. States that can show guns used in crimes come from other states can begin to demand those states begin cracking down on gun sales.

"By showing where crime guns come from, the figures pinpoint where the authorities must crack down on dealers feeding the flow of illegal weaponry," according to the Daily News editorial. "Past studies determined that 1 percent of dealers account for 55 percent of black-market guns."

That means Virginia and Georgia are going to be the subject of a lot of calls for them to do more to stop illegal gun sales. "According to ATF, weapons sold in Georgia and Virginia were used in crimes in 42 other states last year," according to the Daily News editorial. Virginia may just be getting the message, as an article in the Roanoke [Virginia] Times reveals.

Expect more on this. The gun trade and who's to blame has spilled over into presidential politics, and ATF's online data could only add fuel to the debate.

As an aside, ATF wasn't interested in starting a state feud. According to a Forbes article, ATF Director Michael Sullivan told reporters at ATF headquarters this month when the bureau released the data:

"My biggest concern is we have law enforcement departments out there that believe that they can't get access to [gun] trace information, so they're not even asking for it," Sullivan told reporters at ATF headquarters. "And it's undermining their ability to advance their investigations."

"There's little that I can think of that they've requested that we can't provide to them," Sullivan said.

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