DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) - Firearms seized by the Davenport Police Department, whether through a search warrant or from a suicidal person for safe keeping, undoubtedly make their way to the desk of Cpl. Brian Morel.
On a Thursday afternoon, Morel carefully examines one such gun, a black .45-caliber handgun seized as part of a shots-fired investigation, the Quad-City Times (https://bit.ly/1YIC9kK ) reports.
He uses a magnifying glass to carefully examine the gun’s serial number.
“It’s kind of corroded, so I’ve got to clean that up a little bit,” Morel, who also serves as a task force officer with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said as he works.
With the serial number in hand, Morel then can input it into the National Tracing Center, the ATF’s online database that lists all guns sold through a licensed federal firearms dealer.
While the database cannot tell officers whether the gun was reported stolen, the information obtained can serve as a jumping-off point for investigators as they try to track down its origin.
“When I trace that gun, the gun should come back with a purchaser, a purchase date and where it was purchased from that I can use as a starting date,” Morel said. “We can then back track that gun to whoever we took it from . how did that person access that gun if they were not the original purchaser? You’re just trying to bridge or shorten that gap.”
Knowing where a gun came from, especially in shooting incidents and other criminal cases, can be vital for law enforcement, Scott County Sheriff’s Maj. Thomas Gibbs said.
“If they’re being traded illegally, it’s very important,” Gibbs said. “A lot of these can be through illegal transactions. Some are, in fact, stolen so it’s important for us to figure out where they are coming from and if we can find a common trend or theme to see if it’s a single person. If it’s a single person, we can get that person and hopefully stem the tide of illegal guns.”
The National Tracing Center database came out of the 1968 Gun Control Act, which established mandatory record-keeping requirements for people and entities that sell firearms, in an effort to curb gun-related violence.
The database gives law enforcement another resource to trace the origin of firearms imported into and manufactured in the United States.
Bettendorf Police Detective Tim Doty, who has traced guns for the department for three years, said having access to the online database has been extremely helpful, especially when it comes to tracking down the original or last known owner of the gun.
“That way, if it truly was reported as stolen, we can try to track it down, because sometimes we’re missing the serial number or if we do have a serial number, we’re not quite sure who the last owner was,” he said.
Davenport police have seized 1,268 guns over the past five years. Morel, who was assigned to the ATF task force in November, estimated that the department ran checks on more than 120 guns in 2015.
Of the guns that make it to his desk, most are handguns rather than long guns.
There is no typical make and model he sees of the guns he is asked to traced, and he noted there is a long list of gun manufacturers that are listed on the database submission form that he fills out for a trace.
As an officer, Morel said his main concern is that gun owners are being responsible.
“Most of the subjects that I deal with tend to be responsible gun owners, but our bigger concern is those that are either the criminal element or are not being responsible gun owners,” he said.
Police say some of the guns they recover, especially in criminal cases, are obtained illegally.
Morel said the officer who first comes into contact with a firearm typically runs it though the ATF’s National Crime Information Center database to see if had been reported stolen.
Morel said that in his experience in law enforcement, there are several ways a gun can wind up in the hands of someone who is prohibited from owning or possessing one.
They can be stolen from a home or business. They can be purchased legally and then given to someone who is prohibited from possessing a firearm.
In some cases, Morel said he’s even seen guns that are stolen from family members because of a possible drug addiction.
Over the past five years, Davenport police have received 91 reports of guns taken during a burglary; four taken during a robbery; 59 taken from a building; 56 taken from a vehicle; and 13 taken in other theft incidents.
“They are just so many different ways that guns can be accessed,” he said. “It’s not always that hard to acquire a firearm if you’re committed to it.”
Information from: Quad-City Times, https://www.qctimes.com
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