Josh Shapiro

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced on Thursday an initiative to track gun sales and stop illegal sales. — PHILADELPHIA TRIBUNE PHOTO/ABDUL R. SULAYMAN

Attorney General Josh Shapiro on Thursday announced a program aimed at tracking guns involved in criminal investigations to their original seller.

By coalescing state and local authorities — something that Shapiro’s office continues to place an emphasis on — and using a data-driven approach, the goal of the “Track and Trace Initiative” is to “strategically” shut down pipelines for illegal guns.

“Gun violence is killing 1,500 Pennsylvanians on average each year. It touches all of us — from daily shootings in our cities and towns, to rising suicides in our communities,” Shapiro said during a press conference in Erie.

Already this year, the city of Philadelphia has recorded 172 homicides — 3% more than the number recorded at the same time last year, according to crime data from the Philadelphia Police Department. The city’s homicide rate reached a 10-year high in 2018.

Track and Trace seeks to assign more accountability to law enforcement agencies, gun retailers, consumers and gun owners.

For example, state law requires law enforcement agencies to identify a crime gun’s source through tracing information from the ATF. However, Shapiro said, guns often used in crimes are not effectively submitted to shared law enforcement databases; only about 433 of the state’s 1,100 use the database, and only 63 allow other departments to see what they submit to the system.

“Because this information is not shared, we actually have no idea how many crime guns were recovered in Pennsylvania last year, and that makes us all less safe,” Shapiro said.

The AG’s office will create a “Track and Trace Working Group” to work with state and local law enforcement officials to make sure they are sharing crime gun information.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and criminologists say it is important to trace the source of every gun used in a crime because that can provide leads to gun traffickers or illegal sellers and purchasers.

Also, the AG’s office will work closely with gun sellers to increase to increase the use of electronic records of sale.

Most gun sellers currently use paper records that must be mailed, creating a backlog and slowing down investigations. Electronic records will allow law enforcement officials to more quickly trace the sale history of firearms found at crime scenes or in possession of a suspect.

“It’s another tool in our arsenal as we try to stem the tide of violence,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said of Track and Trace. “I say this with nothing being a panacea, but this is an effort to reduce the violence that is impacting thousands.”

Shapiro emphasized that Track and Trace would not result in an infringement on the rights of legal gun owners.

“I’m committed to protecting the right of a parent who wants to legally own a gun to protect their home, but I’m also committed to protecting the right of a parent who wants to walk their child to school and not be in fear of getting shot on the street on their way,” Shapiro said.

“Law enforcement’s mission can not end with solving an individual gun crime,” Shapiro continued. “It’s not enough to just confiscate a gun from a crime scene and lock it away somewhere. We must trace the history of that gun to determine how it ended up in the hand of that criminal.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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