By David S. Fallis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 3, 2009
A new report from a national coalition of mayors urges President Obama to adopt dozens of reforms to help curb gun violence, including steps to crack down on problems at gun shows and the creation of a federal interstate firearms trafficking unit.
The "Blueprint for Federal Action on Illegal Guns," a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, presents 40 recommendations that "would dramatically improve law enforcement's ability to keep guns out of the hands of criminals -- and, in doing so, save innocent lives."
The strategies outlined by the Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a bipartisan group of about 450 mayors nationwide, focus on the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The agency, which has been sent a copy of the report, declined to comment.
"Implementing these recommendations would achieve a goal that all participants in the gun debate support: enforcing laws already on the books," says an accompanying letter signed by the coalition's co-chairmen, Mayors Thomas M. Menino (D) of Boston and Michael R. Bloomberg (I) of New York.
According to the report, hard work by ATF field agents has "been undermined by congressional restrictions, inadequate resources, and a lack of leadership from federal officials in Washington."
The proposed changes could be accomplished within existing laws through agency reforms, regulatory moves and better funding, the report said. The strategies grew out of academic and government research, an analysis of firearms prosecutions and talks with government and law enforcement officials.
"The mayor's coalition created this document for policy discussion," said Jason Post, a spokesman for Bloomberg's office. There are no plans for public release of the document, which is being distributed to key members of Obama's administration and agencies affected by the recommendations.
The 51-page document suggests a handful of strategies that would tighten ATF oversight of thousands of gun shows held annually. The study noted that a 2007 inspector general's probe concluded the "ATF does not have a formal gun show enforcement program."
ATF agents should have greater discretion to conduct criminal investigations at gun shows identified as sources of firearms later seized in crimes, the report states, noting that "criminal activity endemic to some gun shows goes unchecked."
Agents at gun shows should "develop undercover integrity tests" to determine whether felons or out-of-state residents are making illegal purchases.
The report also calls for a better approach to crime gun tracing, the process that tracks a seized weapon back to its first retail sale. The ATF lacks the structure or resources to "fully realize its power," the report says, and information is not regularly shared with field offices, and state and local law enforcement.
To this end, the study wants ATF to be funded to create a new "Office of Tactical Trace Analysis," which would replace the current crime gun analysis branch.
Because serial numbers are sometimes obliterated on crime guns, the study also wants ATF to require that manufacturers stamp new guns with a second, hidden serial number.
Another recommendation calls for the FBI to notify local and state law enforcement every time a person attempts to buy a gun, but does not pass the background check.
"Federal law enforcement should communicate that red flag to the state and local authorities that may be best positioned to address the threat," the report says, suggesting the use of e-mail alerts.
And federal prosecutors should more aggressively prosecute people who fail the background check, the study says. In 2005, the FBI referred 67,713 cases to the ATF, but federal prosecutors pursued only 135 of those cases.
Proposed changes urge that the ATF be given additional manpower. The agency has about 2,500 agents spread among 22 field divisions, the study says, and lacks resources to effectively police gun trafficking across state and national borders.
The report wants money for a "Interstate Firearms Trafficking Unit," to better coordinate ATF investigations. Former ATF officials, according to the report, say it is common for agents to fail to reach out to their counterparts in different states. Without such coordination, investigations "may be compromised by regional ATF offices and joint task forces working at cross-purposes."
The ATF also needs $53 million to hire more field inspectors to ensure compliance by gun dealers, the report said. At the current pace, dealers are inspected once every 11 years, instead of the agency's goal of once every three years, according to the report.