ATF’s gun store theft alert system gets digital upgrade

The federal government’s automated alert system for warning gun dealers about local thefts got an upgrade this month, according to a report from The Trace.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will now email federal firearms licensees about reported break-ins. The email text will be a carbon copy of the automated voice recording used to dial gun retailers and share the information.

“It’s nothing the law requires, but it’s a service we provide,” said Andy Graham, a deputy assistant director for field operations with the ATF who supervises the notification program, told the Trace Wednesday. “We want people to be diligent in securing their premises and inventory.”

The ATF launched the “fflAlert” system in January after gun store burglaries increased 30 percent in 2016. Nearly 7,500 guns disappeared onto the black market last year, a 59 percent increase over 2015.

Every time a gun dealer reports a theft, the alert system sends out an automated phone call to nearby stores detailing the incident, how the suspects gained entry and urges dealers to “ensure the security of both your inventory and property,” according to The Trace.

But of the 60,000 registered gun dealers nationwide, only a fraction report ever receiving the calls.

The ATF chocked up the system’s shortcomings to factors beyond their control — the agency doesn’t track how many calls actually get answered, though the system does leave voicemails when it can.

Likewise, the emails won’t make it to every gun retailer, either, since less than half supplied email addresses to the ATF when applying for a license, according to The Trace.

The limitations don’t stifle the system’s impact, entirely, however. The ATF said a recent survey of 6,000 retailers found 40 percent revised their security practices after learning of a nearby theft through the fflAlert.