Reporter’s Notebook

Minnesota Public Radio has notes from a reporter for MPR News, through a grant from the Joyce Foundation. It’s very interesting. Let me share some tidbits:

I’m kicking around some ideas for a title to the project. “Gun Project” is not terribly catchy. I’m thinking of “Manufacture to Murder,” or a play on the actual model and manufacturer of the crime gun we wind up using. (Editor’s note – I like it; much better than “gun project”.) The Washington Post adds another part to their Hidden Life of Gunsseries. They trace guns used to kill cops.

Oh, I can think of some choice names to call this article. I’m sure you can too.

I talked to Bob Schmidt and Bernie Zapor from the St. Paul ATF yesterday. They told me that even if the MPD wants to give us gun trace data, they are forbidden from doing so. They told me that instead, we’ll have to get our trace data from court records, which is not what I understood from Ben Hayes, the ATF agent who gave a presentation at the Chicago seminar. However, that is apparently how the Washington Post got the data for their series.

Now you can see the importance of Tiahrt, which keeps this data restricted to law enforcement uses through an appropriations rider NRA gets attached every budget. I’m actually impressed the Washington Post was so eager to disparage the Second Amendment they went through the trouble of digging through court records to get around Tiahrt.

I started doing a little online browsing to see what handguns cost these days. If you want to get a sense of how gun makers try to sell people on new cosmetic features and gadgets, check out the Smith & Wesson website.

You sir, know nothing about the subject you’re shooting your ignorant mouth off about. I’m also noting the macabre tone of these notes, chasing a police homicide here, an armed robbery or murder there. All for the greater public good, you see. Nothing to see here. Move along. We’re just out to condemn the object, you see, not the person wielding it. We’re good people.

Success! Sort of. A federal judge just sentenced a guy named Kingston Gaulden to 33 months for being a prohibited person with a firearm. An ATF agent filed an affidavit saying that the .40 caliber Smith & Wesson gun found with Gaulden was traced back to a gun store robbery in St. Louis Park on Dec. 8, 2009.

A gun store robbery! What luck!

At the center, I spoke with Chief Charlie Houser. Houser gave me a tour of the center and I got to see firsthand how much manual labor goes into sorting records for tracing. They have stacks of out-of-business records from gun sellers across the country. They get 1.3 million records each month. These have to be scanned by hand into their system and stored as a picture file. They used to put the records on microfilm, but don’t any more.

However, by order of Congress, they cannot use optical character recognition software on the scanned documents. That would create a searchable database. And that is prohibited. Houser says if he doesn’t have at least 7 of his 10 scanning machines running 16 hours a day, they’ll be overrun with records. At times, they’ve gotten so backed up they’ve had to get shipping containers put in the parking lot so they can store boxes.

Interesting. So now we know how they are storing them. The problem here is that it would be pretty easy to go from pictorial snapshots to actual full blown gun registry if Congress were to ever allow them to OCR the electronic forms. Almost makes you think whether you should perhaps not write so clearly on your next 4473 transaction.

Before Tiahrt, Nunziato’s Tracing Center would send an officer data related to the gun they were trying to trace. He says “it would say the address used by the person who purchased the gun was also an address used by somebody that possessed the gun that was involved in a killing in Chicago.” And he says the ATF would provide the name and number of the officer in Chicago investigating that killing.

I’m not understanding how Tiahrt prevents ATF from doing this. What it does do is prevent Joyce funded reporters from getting their grubby hands on the data and drawing conclusions on it about limiting constitutional freedoms in this country. For that, I am grateful.

6 thoughts on “Reporter’s Notebook”

  1. Where is the NRA with a grant program targeted towards local radio, TV, print and online journalists?

    1. “Where is the NRA with a grant program targeted towards local radio, TV, print and online journalists?”

      Where’s your donation to fund such a thing? They do have a program where you can create your own endowment. (Unfortunately, I can’t link to it since the NRA Give website is now all flash and thereby un-linkable.)

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