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Durbin: Give police departments financial incentive to trace guns

U.S. Senator Dick Durbdowntown Elgback May. | Sun-Times files

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin in downtown Elgin back in May. | Sun-Times files

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Updated: July 23, 2013 7:55AM

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is calling on police departments in Illinois to sign up to use eTrace — a federal firearms tracing system that can tell investigators the chain of custody of a gun from the manufacturer to the first legal purchaser.

Fewer than half of the more than 800 police departments in the state participate in the program through the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Durbin said Monday.

Durbin (D-Ill.) is introducing a bill to give police departments an incentive to use eTrace. Those seeking federal COPS grants would have to tell the federal government how many crime guns they recovered, how many were submitted to ATF for tracing and why any recovered guns were not submitted. Those who submit every crime gun for tracing would receive preference in COPS grant awards.

Chicago is among those departments that trace every recovered crime gun. The Chicago Police Department recovers thousands of guns a year.

Sheriff Tom Dart is backing Durbin’s bill. The sheriff has been pushing for police departments in Cook County to sign up to use eTrace. Dart says the program can allow departments to identify patterns in how guns are getting into the hands of criminals. Dart’s office has found that dozens of departments in Cook County were not using eTrace.

“The goals of this bill are similar to those of my work in Cook County encouraging local law enforcement to trace all crime guns,” he said.

Durbin said he will send a letter to every department in Illinois that isn’t linked to eTrace.

“Solving violent gun crimes and targeting crime gun trafficking networks are among the highest law enforcement priorities for our nation, and increased use of crime gun tracing will help law enforcement catch criminals and shut down illegal trafficking organizations,” Durbin wrote in the letter.

Gun-rights advocates have said they don’t have a problem with the government expanding the tracing of guns recovered in drug raids or seized in violent crimes. But they’re wary of the government seizing guns in misdemeanor cases involving illegal gun possession and tracking the ownership of those weapons.

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