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Baltimore has a gun problem, and a new city program wants to find out how they are getting here

Baltimore will use a new tool to track the flow of illegal guns into the city in hopes of identifying where they came from and how they get into the hands of criminals.

Mayor Brandon Scott said the city will partner with Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit focused on preventing gun violence, to pilot its Gun Trafficking Intelligence Platform. Baltimore is the first city to partner with the organization, founded and largely funded by billionaire businessman and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, and has been aiding its development in recent months, officials said.

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During a discussion Wednesday morning with Everytown President John Feinblatt, Scott said the program will integrate data from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm’s e-Trace system, which allows participating law enforcement agencies to submit firearm traces and ballistic evidence to a national database to compare to the police department’s own data on crime and the city’s ShotSpotter gunshot detection network.

“In essence, what this tool does [is] it enables our detectives to see the full picture of guns fueling the violence here in Baltimore,” Scott said. “With a few clicks, our detectives can see patterns related to where our crime guns are coming from, who they’re coming from and also allows them to see connections between where guns are coming from and how they’re being used on the streets.”

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While the mayor said he still wants the city to focus on identifying and targeting Baltimore’s violent repeat offenders and the neighborhoods in which they operate, this is meant to help detectives see who is behind the sales of guns to people with criminal backgrounds.

“We would be foolish to not dig deeper into the trafficking of these guns and the illegal sales of these guns,” Scott said.

According to Scott, 63% of the firearms seized by Baltimore police last year were from outside Maryland and 82% were from outside the city itself.

Scott said that the data pulled in by the program would be able to tell, for example, if a person with 10 handguns had purchased them at different stores or at one location.

Baltimore police could use that data “to break down these networks of folks ... who are knowingly trafficking” weapons, Scott added.

He said the program would be implemented in the coming weeks.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said at an afternoon press conference that the tool will be integrated into the department’s gun intelligence center, which was created with a $750,000 federal grant in 2019. It also looks at federal databases of guns and ballistics to track guns used in crimes.

“As we all know, firearms are not manufactured here in the city of Baltimore,” Harrison said. “However, they do fall into the hands of young men and women who continuously commit senseless, violent acts with no regard to those who may be caught in the crossfire.”

Feinblatt said the program will be implemented at no cost to the city and that he hopes it will create a “chilling effect,” causing people who sell guns to known criminals to reconsider their actions in light of potentially being tracked.

The issue of guns being trafficked into the city is a longstanding one, as law enforcement officials have said the majority of illegal firearms in Baltimore come from surrounding states with more relaxed gun laws.

Federal prosecutors launched the “Project Guardian” initiative in 2019 to identify and prosecute straw purchasers and other illegal traders who supply criminals in the city with firearms.

That program looked to use ATF technology to compare ballistics markings in a national database and identify connections between firearms cases regardless of where they occur. However, there have been barriers in federal law preventing city officials from obtaining ATF’s data on tracing firearms.

Critics say the Tiahrt Amendment, a provision of the Justice Department’s appropriations bill that allows only law enforcement agencies and prosecutors involved in criminal investigations to access data from the ATF’s firearms trace database, hampers the ability to monitor the importing of guns across state lines.

Scott called for the repeal of the amendment, saying that “regulations make it very difficult for cities to use [ATF’s] e-Trace” data.

Feinblatt agreed.

“We know from past experience that when you shine a spotlight on players and actors that are breaking the law that it will result in reductions in guns being trafficked into Baltimore or any other city,” Feinblatt said.

The pilot program now comes at a time when Baltimore has seen a slew of nonfatal shootings in which at least a dozen people have been shot in the past five days, including several children.

On Tuesday, a 17-year-old who was washing car windows was shot multiple times in the Bolton Hill neighborhood in what police say was a targeted attack. On Monday, police said a 12-year-old was shot in the arm in the Four by Four neighborhood in Northeast Baltimore. On Saturday, a 10-year-old was shot in the chest by a stray bullet in West Baltimore while she was walking to purchase snacks. Police say two groups of men about four blocks away exchanged gunfire and that two men were also injured in the shootout.

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