Pa. attorney general seeks support in tracking guns used in crimes |
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Tom Davidson

Pittsburgh’s police department and the federal prosecutor based in the city threw their support Friday behind a Track and Trace program designed to combat gun violence by keeping better track of guns in Pennsylvania.

The program launched out of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office aims to track guns that are sold in the state and trace the weapons that have been used in crimes to their owners.

Officials said it will work if everyone — from law enforcement officials to gun owners — follows rules and regulations already on the books about firearms. Police departments are required to report guns used to commit crimes to a federal database. Gun owners must follow certain laws when buying or selling a firearm.

“I have to fight back against this public health crisis,” Shapiro said, flanked by U.S. Attorney Scott Brady and Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert.

Shapiro wants police departments to be diligent in reporting to a mandated federal registry monitored by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that documents the guns used to commit crimes. If more departments use the registry, authorities will be able to track how a gun stolen from a rural hunting cabin ended up being used to commit a crime elsewhere, Shapiro said.

Schubert said Pittsburgh had been reporting data to federal authorities but hasn’t been sharing that data with the state. The city will start sharing that information with the state, officials said.

Finding out where weapons come from and who owns them is crucial to reducing violence in the city, Schubert said.

“It will help us. I think it’s going to save lives,” Schubert said.

Shapiro said people need to be aware of consequences associated with “straw purchases,” or selling a gun without following the proper protocols or buying a gun for somebody who isn’t allowed to own one. Such purchases are a felony that carry a sentence of up to 5 years in prison, according to state law.

“These are serious crimes with serious consequences,” he said.

Another component of the program involves gun retailers. Shapiro wants them to electronically submit their sales data so they can be more easily compiled in a state police database. Findlay Township-based Dick’s Sporting Goods is the first major partner in the attorney general’s effort to do this, Shapiro said. Previously, it had submitted them on paper, but that resulted in delays and potential errors, Shapiro said. Now, Dick’s is submitting the information electronically.

Dick’s sells nearly 10,000 guns annually at its 39 stores in Pennsylvania and its transition to electronically submitting its data will have an impact across the state, Shapiro said.

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