Recovery of guns lost, stolen from licensed dealers up 13 percent in 2017

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)

Traced firearms lost or stolen from licensed dealers increased 13 percent in 2017, according to federal data released last week.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives recovered more than 2,700 guns last year reported missing from retailers — a 78 percent increase over the last four years. More than one-third of the guns traced back to dealers in Texas, Ohio, California, Illinois and Florida.

Janice Kemp, an ATF spokeswoman, told last week spikes in traced firearms — up 11 percent nationwide — suggests increased participation from state and local law enforcement in federal tracing programs.

“The information provides investigative leads to law enforcement and can link a suspect to a firearm in a criminal investigation, help identify potential firearm traffickers, and detect in-state, interstate and international firearms trafficking patterns, including the sources and types of crime guns used,” she said.

The ATF’s National Tracing Center is the only agency authorized to track firearms in the United States. It’s headquarters — located in Martinsburg, West Virginia — houses more than 17,000 guns, an untold number of Form 4473s and other hard copy documents necessary to complete tracing investigations.

“The data we glean from traces can be used to highlight the types of firearms being sold or brought into specific states, as well as capture the original state where the firearm was purchased,” Kemp said. “This helps investigators take violent offenders off the streets.”

The NTC said it processed more than 408,000 tracing requests last year — the most ever recorded in the center’s 30-year history.

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