Illegal Guns: Congress' Job
U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton
New York Post, January 6th 2006
MURDERS like those of NYPD Det. Dillon Stewart and Det. Daniel Enchautegui remind us of the enormous sacrifice made by the brave men and women committed to protecting us and our communities. Whenever one of our courageous police officers is murdered, we are forced to reexamine whether we have done everything within our means to ensure the safety of those who risk their lives to protect us.
Sadly, Det. Stewart's shooting death brought home once again the deadly consequences of allowing stolen handguns to make their way into the wrong hands. Det. Stewart was killed when a suspect who had run a red light suddenly opened fire on his police car, hitting Stewart in the heart.
As is sadly too often the case, that gun had been obtained illegally in another state.
The gun had been stolen in Florida six years before killing Stewart, and had been used in another crime only six months before. Yet the theft was never reported to the National Tracing Center of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), which maintains a database that helps law enforcement trace and stop illegal-gun trafficking.
This is a tragic story that inspires anger, sadness and a sense of urgency. Law-enforcement agencies ought to have all the tools and resources they need to prevent such crimes. And Congress ought to stand squarely with police officers as they do the difficult and dangerous work of fighting gun crimes, tracking illegal weapons and keeping our streets and neighborhoods safe for our families.
Sadly, Congress isn't doing all it can to support our police in their service. Shamefully, it recently made the jobs of our police officers more difficult and dangerous.
The National Tracing Center database is an essential resource for law enforcement. Beyond enabling law enforcement to trace the history of a gun linked to a crime, it helps identify patterns of gun theft and trafficking. And that information can help local law enforcement — like the NYPD — in stopping illegal guns before they're used to commit crimes.
For instance, if police report a stolen gun used in a crime in New York to the ATF, local law enforcement could learn where that gun was first sold, and whether other guns sold by the same dealer were used in other crimes in other states. This helps law enforcement identify sources of "crime guns" so that they can cut the supply off at the source.
Yet the NYPD — along with every other branch of law enforcement in the nation — is being denied the information needed to get illegal guns off our streets: There is no requirement that stolen guns or guns used to commit crimes be reported to the National Tracing Center database.
New York state has a law requiring New York law enforcement to report guns used in crimes to the federal database for tracing — but the vast majority of states have no such requirement.
Worse, an obscure provision (surreptitiously passed into law in 2003 via an appropriations bill with little note or debate) requires that much of this vital gun tracing information — information that could save lives — be kept secret from the public and off-limits to police officers as they track guns used to kill police officers like Officer Stewart.
As a result, officers can only trace guns after they're used to commit a crime, and are shut off from information about other guns, sold by the same dealer and used in other crimes in other states.
This does nothing to address the larger problem of the countless illegal guns already on our streets.
From 1988 to 2003, 92 percent of the illegal handguns recovered in New York City came from out of state. Stopping the flow of illegal guns into the Empire State is essential to ending the gun violence on our streets. We are therefore pressing our colleagues in both the Senate and the House to repeal the senseless law that handcuffs law enforcement and the public from having full access to the ATF gun-tracing database.
Likewise, we ask that our colleagues join us in demanding the mandatory reporting of stolen guns and guns used in crime to the ATF database for tracing.
Sitting idly by while more New Yorkers are gunned down with illegal and stolen guns is unacceptable. Passing laws that actually hinder the efforts of police officers who are putting their lives on the line is a disgrace.
We cannot wait until someone is killed again to find out who is putting these guns on the street. Officer Stewart died in service to our community. We ought to honor his service and sacrifice by doing all we can to prevent similar murders from happening again.