ATF: Firearms tracing down in 2016

AR-15 rifles line a shelf in the gun library at the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms National Tracing Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia December 15, 2015. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

AR-15 rifles line a shelf in the gun library at the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms National Tracing Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia December 15, 2015. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Firearm traces decreased marginally last year, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The ATF traced more than 364,000 guns in 2016, a 2.4 percent decrease over 2015. The agency said last week trace requests in 2017, so far, have topped 400,000 — a record high.

“Trace information provides valuable investigative leads to law enforcement and can link a suspect to a firearm in a criminal investigation,” the agency said in a press release Friday. “Firearms traces help identify potential firearms traffickers by detecting in-state, interstate and international firearms trafficking patterns, including the sources and types of crime guns; specific trend data for ATF and its law enforcement partners, and information on the movement of a firearm from the manufacturer or importer through the distribution chain to identify its first retail purchaser.”

The majority of guns in 2016 traced back to the United States, according to data from the agency’s National Tracing Center, with nearly 60 percent tracked back to a final retail purchaser. The top three firearms traced included more than 172,000 pistols, 44,000 revolvers and more than 40,000 rifles. Specifically, the agency tracked 67,000 9 mm handguns and another 35,000 .22 caliber firearms, according to NTC data.

The NTC is the only agency authorized to track firearms in the United States. Its headquarters, located in Martinsburg, West Virginia, house stashes of 17,000 firearms and an untold number of Form 4473s and other hard copy documents necessary to complete their investigations. Federal law restricts the creation of any digital, searchable database of gun sales or gun owners. Agents at the NTC use the archaic system to track the movement of firearms from its manufacturer to the original point of sale in the commercial market “to identify an unlicensed purchaser.”

The ATF released 2016 tracing data for MexicoCanadaCentral America and the Caribbean in August.