Ian Argent is surprised by how quickly the police turned the trace around for a country where registration is supposed to be illegal. The truth is that this country has had a form of registration since 1968. The concept of the registry created by the Gun Control Act of 1968 is that given a particular gun, the police can quickly find the last legal owner, but they could not find out whether a particular person did, or didn’t own guns, nor could they find out how many guns that person owns. But for the purposes of tracing a gun to a person, this country already has registration.
Up to the 4473, those records are already largely computerized. To find out which dealer a particular gun was sold to doesn’t take ATF any time at all. None of the big manufacturers or distributers are doing A&D records by hand anymore, and I wouldn’t be surprised if ATF has direct access to this data without a person having to be involved. Once the dealer has been identified, the question is whether that dealer is in business. If not, then it’s just a quick call over to the big ATF vault in West Virginia where all the 4473s of defunct dealers are sent, and put on microfilm. ATF is forbidden from computerizing these records by law (because that would make a registry, where they could link people to guns, in addition to linking guns to people). If the dealer is still in business, I believe all that is required is to send over a trace request, the dealer looks up the 4473, and there you have the trace. If the gun was sold more than 20 years ago, and the dealer lawfully destroyed that record, the trace fails at that point. Traces to fail rather often, as dealers are only required to keep records for 20 years, and the records in West Virginia are likewise sometimes incomplete.
But that’s why the trace can happen so quickly. It doesn’t take a whole lot of manual labor to accomplish one. Generally speaking, the amount of time it takes for a dealer to retrieve a 4473, or for an ATF agents in West Virginia to do the same from their files. You’re talking a matter of hours, not days or weeks.