Top Reasons Why Firearms Tracing Fail

May 11 2011, 2:09 PM by Øistein Thorsen

At a lunchtime briefing in New York on Tuesday, May 10, 2011 entitled “Why Traces Fail – Case studies in the challenges involved in issuing and responding to tracing requests,” presenters said one of the top reasons firearm tracing fails is that individuals requesting the trace often leave out important information such as the serial number and legal import information. Among the firearm trace requests submitted to the United States, firearm trace requests failed 40 percent of time for such reasons. In Interpol’s experience, it is 70 percent.

by Colby Goodman, Independent Consultant

Although providing the accurate account of the serial number is a key component for every firearms trace request, sometimes this isn’t enough. Frequently, law enforcement officials processing a trace request need other identification information such as the make, model, caliber, and country of origin or legal import data to make a definitive match. When components of the firearm change such as the grip or after market sights, this can complicate a trace request. Newer types of module firearms – or firearms that can accept different types of barrels – can be a significant challenge unless national standards or laws have addressed this issue.

Another top reason firearm trace requests fail is poor recording keeping. Thirty-five percent of failed trace requests in the United States have been due to such reasons. Records can be lost, misfiled, destroyed, or never actually existed according to the presenters. In some cases, the manufacturer or the retail seller has gone out of business. In other cases, government’s requirements for keeping records could have changed, negatively effecting efforts to indentify firearms. Surprisingly, some 20 percent of firearm trace requests in the United States fail because the firearm was manufactured over 40 years ago.

As far as other related trends, the presenters said they have witnessed a significant increase in firearm trace requests in the last decade. In some countries such as Colombia, governments have also improved the information they provide for their firearm trace requests. However, some countries such as China have yet to respond to a firearm trace request from outside law enforcement organizations.

The presenters highlighted a few suggestions for how to improve the above situation. First, it would help if states would standardize mandatory firearms identification criteria. Second, there continues to be a need for more training on how to identify firearms and submit trace requests. Third, governments could commit to be timely in their firearm trace requests and in their response to governments requesting the firearm trace.