I had not seen any big press about this... I hope someone notices...
In the Recovery Act Under Justice Programs, "$10,000,000 shall be transferred to ‘‘Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Salaries and Expenses’’ for the ATF Project Gunrunner."
So what is ATF project Gunrunner? According to the ATF factsheet, ..."The initiative seeks to focus ATF’s investigative, intelligence and training resources to suppress the firearms trafficking to Mexico and stem the firearms-related violence on both sides of the border."
Okay. No problem with that. One of their tools though is interesting. It's eTrace, a system to help investigators track "...recovered crime guns chain of custody from it’s source (manufacturer/importer) through the chain of distribution (wholesaler/retailer) to the individual who was the first retail purchaser of the firearm, or to a point where all other possibilities of identifying the original purchaser have been thoroughly exhausted."
Again, the idea here seems to be okay, to help identify source of firearms that routinely wind up in the hands of criminals. If someone is buying guns in order to transfer them illegally, they should be prosecuted. This can help do that.
I have some concerns though about a system that identifies the "first retail purchaser." As I understand it, gun purchases aren't "reported" but investigators can look at a dealer's record to see who a specific crime gun was transferred to. I have no problem with that, but it's a short step to make licensed dealers report on purchasers.
The next point is a huge red flag, in testimony to Congress last year, the William Hoover of ATF discussed that they needed resources. He identifies problem areas as the traditional bugaboos of "gun shows" and "straw purchasers". And continues "...As part of “Project Gunrunner” we will seek to expand inspection and compliance activities to include focused forward traces of firearms that, through historical firearms recovery and trace data have been identified as “weapons of choice” for the cartels and their enforcers. These inspections will also seek to use firearms tracing and proactive investigative measures to identify and interdict those who pose as legitimate buyers while they are actually straw purchasing firearms for cartel members and associates who otherwise are prohibited from purchasing firearms in the U.S."
Well the ATF now has $10 million of additional resources for this project. I just wish I knew more about what they mean by "forward focus traces" and "proactive investigative measures."
From a civil rights perspective, these are worrisome terms.
This is all put in the context of fighting international arms trafficking, but it certainly appears that eTrace is a US system, available to local law enforcement. If someone knows more, I'd be happy to learn about it.
Oh by the way, if you look at Mr. Hoover's testimony, be sure to enjoy the irony of this statement, "...The increased incidence of firearms trafficking to Mexico (from the U.S.) is influenced by numerous factors, including: The strict prohibition and regulation of firearms in Mexico;..." Classic.
UPDATE: JammieWearingFool has info on the effort to make eTrace data available to local governments, not law enforcement. Currently this is prohibited under the Tiahrt Amendment