Firearms probes turn up multiple crimes


WASHINGTON - More than half the investigations of firearms trafficking conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms recovered at least one gun that had been used in other crimes, a study by the bureau has found.

"This report shows that trafficking investigations lead to armed violent criminals," Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers said last week at a new conference. The Department of the Treasury oversees the bureau.

The report documented 1,530 investigations by the bureau's agents between July 1996 and December 1998.

More than half the investigations involved firearms known to have been used in other crimes, Summers said, including homicides, robberies and assaults. And a quarter of the traffickers were convicted felons, he said.

Bureau and Justice Department officials, working with state and local law enforcement officials, have turned up more than 84,000 firearms, leading to more than 1,700 prosecutions on gun-trafficking charges, authorities said.

More than 14 percent of the trafficking investigations involved juvenile cases; about 17 percent were associated with homicide cases and robbery cases, respectively; and about 25 percent were associated with assaults, the study found.

Felons play a significant role in the sale and distribution of firearms. The study indicated that when law enforcement officials followed a gun used in a crime to its supplier, the authorities often found another violent criminal. For example, about a quarter of the bureau's investigations involved felons buying, selling or possessing firearms.

"Thus, investigations that 'follow the crime gun' to its illegal source are not only an effective strategy to disrupt and reduce firearms trafficking in a community; they also are an effective means to apprehend felons, armed career criminals and narcotics traffickers who possess and misuse firearms," investigators wrote in the report.

James E. Johnson, the undersecretary for enforcement at the Treasury Department, called this effort "finding the criminal behind the criminal."

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