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Time to get serious about tracking  criminals’ guns

Updated: August 24, 2013 6:28AM

The six people killed and 23 wounded across the city in shootings from Friday night through Sunday remind us we can’t let up in the struggle for sensible gun laws.

On Monday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart urged more police departments to take advantage of the federal system to track guns used in crimes. Durbin said he is introducing legislation to give police departments that don’t participate in the system, called eTrace, an incentive to do so.

When guns used in crimes are traced to the source, it not only helps track down criminals but also identifies trafficking patterns. Anything that helps police understand how guns get into the hands of criminals makes our streets safer.

Unfortunately, only about 4,700 of the roughly 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the county participate in eTrace. Many of them are smaller departments that don’t view tracing firearms as a priority, Durbin said.

In a process that Durbin calls “easy and free,” police using eTrace send in the name of the manufacturer, the model and the serial number to the National Tracing Center, which can trace the gun back to the first legal purchaser.

The more that police use eTrace, the better understanding they get of gun traffkicking and the more clues they get about how criminals obtain guns, said Jens Ludwig, director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

To get more police departments to sign up, Durbin’s bill would give preference for federal grants to police to departments that use eTrace.

“I can’t tell you what a valuable tool this is,” Dart said Monday. “If you’re opposed to this, you are for criminals. It is really that simple.”

By itself, Durbin’s bill won’t close the loopholes that give criminals easy access to guns. But it’s a worthwhile effort to keep some guns out of criminals’ hands.

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