The Treasury Department, in conjunction with the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, and Firearms, has released a new report claiming that illegal
gun trafficking is rampant and is most prevalent among convicted felons
and at gun shows.

According to the

(requires Acrobat to view). titled, “Following the Gun: Enforcing Federal Laws Against Firearms Traffickers,” the Treasury-BATF study is “the most comprehensive report ever about the illegal firearms market.” The study’s authors said the bureau followed 1,500 illegal firearms trafficking investigations “that led to the conviction, prosecution and sentencing of corrupt licensed dealers, straw purchasers, unlicensed dealers, and traffickers of stolen guns.”

The study involved investigations between July 1996 and December 1998 and was conducted in partnership with U.S. attorneys and state and local authorities, Treasury said.

“We are cracking down on gun traffickers and making it harder and harder for criminals to obtain guns illegally,” said Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, according to a statement. “But, this report also shows that we must do more to close every trafficking channel, starting with closing the gun show loophole, and stiffening criminal penalties for firearms dealers and large-scale traffickers.”

Specifically, the report said guns sold via gun shows “were associated with the second highest number of trafficked firearms per investigation, 130 guns, and about 14 percent of the investigations,” a finding that analysts said would bolster the Clinton administration’s efforts to close so-called “gun show loopholes” that exempt buyers from being subjected to background checks.

Meanwhile, the report said one-quarter of illegal traffickers identified in the investigations were convicted felons. Nearly half of all 1,500 investigations — 45 percent — “involved convicted felons who illegally bought, sold, possessed, received, or stole firearms,” the report said.

BATF said about 40,000 firearms, or about half the amount of guns tracked by the investigations, were “associated” with investigations involving “corrupt” federal firearms licenses. Those licenses, owned by “retail dealers, pawnshops, and residential FFL holders” comprised 9 percent of the investigations, but produced the highest number of guns tracked — 350 each — per investigation.

The study also found:

  • More than 22,500 illegally trafficked firearms were associated with investigations of unlicensed sellers. Unlicensed sellers were the focus of about a fifth of the investigations and were associated with an average of 75 guns per investigation.

  • Almost 26,000 of the firearms were associated with investigations in which there was a straw purchaser. Straw purchasers, who buy firearms on behalf of others from licensed and unlicensed sellers and transfer them either to prohibited persons or to unlicensed sellers, were the most common subject of illegal trafficking investigations. Almost half of all the investigations involved straw purchasers, with an average of 37 firearms trafficked per investigation.

  • About 11,000 illegally trafficked firearms were associated with investigations involving theft. Firearms stolen from residences, federally licensed retail firearms dealers, and common carriers were involved in over a quarter of the ATF trafficking investigations. Of the three targets of theft, common carriers were associated with the most number of guns per investigation, over 66.

  • Firearms tracing was used as an investigative tool in 60 percent of the investigations, and analysis of crime gun tracing information and multiple sales reports created the leads to start 30 percent of the investigations.

“ATF is confident that crime gun tracing solidifies the law enforcement partnerships needed to keep the streets of this nation safer and more secure,” said ATF Director Bradley Buckles.

Summers said he sent a letter to President Clinton advising him of Treasury’s findings and recommending “several legislative and enforcement steps to reduce illegal firearms trafficking.” Of those, “stiffer criminal penalties, increasing sentencing for major traffickers and expanding the level of firearms tracing to identify all sources of crime guns” were included.

Not everybody is impressed by the government’s report, however.

“Forget all the numbers and look at the strategy,” said Aaron Zelman, executive director of

Jews For the Preservation of Firearms
a pro-gun group based in Hartford, Wis. “The reason the government wants to shut down the gun shows is because that’s where people meet to discuss freedom issues, such as fully informed juries and land issues. Gun shows are places for the exchange of this kind of information.

“I’d want to see the raw data on this study, not just what the Treasury Department or the BATF puts up on the Internet or makes public,” he added. “For example, I’d want to know if they are withholding information that doesn’t jibe with administration policies” on gun control and background checks at gun shows.

In that vein, the Department of Health and Human Services

announced Monday
that shooting deaths of children had declined ten percent in 1998 over the previous year, a figure President Bill Clinton called “promising” and “significant when compared to 1994” — a year when, the government said, childhood gun deaths were 35 percent higher than two years ago.

“While these figures are encouraging, there is no question that gun violence is still far too prevalent in our nation,” Clinton said in a statement. “Despite our progress, 10 young people are killed with guns every day in America.

“Law enforcement must crack down on gun traffickers who supply young people with firearms and armed criminals who commit violence against our children,” Clinton said. “And the gun industry must responsibly design, distribute and market its products to make sure that they do not fall into the wrong hands.”

In the White House statement, Clinton called on Congress to fund his $280 million “National Gun Enforcement Initiative,” as well as “stalled common-sense gun safety legislation that can help keep guns out of the hands of children and criminals.”

Such methods, however, do more to punish law-abiding gun owners than criminals, Zelman said.

“Those methods are fine if you want a police state,” he added.

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