Illinois launches statewide gun trace database to combat illegal firearm trafficking

Crime Gun Connect will compile data about weapons from departments across the state.

SHARE Illinois launches statewide gun trace database to combat illegal firearm trafficking
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul holds a news conference Wednesday in Chicago.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul announces the launch of a statewide database to assist law enforcement agencies in investigating gun crimes and identifying the sources of illegal guns at a press conference Wednesday at the James R. Thompson Center.

Elizabeth Rymut/Sun-Times

Illinois law enforcement agencies will pool information on guns used in crimes across the state, building a database that will allow police to better track the trafficking of illegal guns, state Attorney General Kwame Raoul announced Wednesday at a news conference in Chicago.

Police departments can opt in the newly launched Crime Gun Connect platform developed by the Attorney General’s office with help from Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun safety advocacy organization.

So far, more than 200 law enforcement agencies in the state have agreed to upload information about weapons and ballistics evidence from crimes, including information from state police and gun trace data from the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms’ eTrace system.

“These guns are coming from somewhere. There are people trafficking them,” Raoul said. “This shows that we are not only after the person who pulls the trigger, but the person who gets [them] the gun.”

By federal law, records in the eTrace system can’t be rendered in digital form — staff at the federal agency must contact manufacturers and retailers and search through paper records to perform a trace for a police department. Illinois’ new system is one of the first to compile the information statewide, said Nick Suplina, senior vice president for law and policy at Everytown.

“I’d say this is the best statewide gun-analytics platform I’ve seen in the country,” Suplina said.

Running traces — tracking the chain of ownership —only recently became commonplace among police departments, particularly smaller departments that were less concerned about gun trafficking.

“If you’re only concerned with the one crime in front of you as a police agency, and you don’t have information about how these guns are flowing into your community, you’re only getting a very narrow picture,” Suplina said.

Illinois’ database will be far easier to search and share information, and algorithms will flag suspicious patterns, like guns from a single shop turning up in crimes soon after they are purchased, to identify potential “straw purchasers” who buy guns legally to sell on the illegal market.

Crime researcher Kimberly Johnson of the University of Chicago Crime Lab said the Crime Gun Connect platform will assemble data and allow police to sift through it far more easily.

“We know from our experience analyzing the city of Chicago’s gun trace data that law enforcement agencies are sitting on a lot of information about recovered firearms, but because the data are not stored in a super user-friendly way, it’s hard for agencies to generate actionable insights,” she said.

The Illinois departments that have pledged to share information with the database includes the Chicago Police Department, which added information on some 87,000 guns of the 100,000 in the system to date.

The database also will make some of its information public, including information about what states are the largest sources of illegal weapons. Fewer than 39% of guns seized in connection with crimes in Illinois were purchased in the state, with the largest share of weapons coming from Indiana, according to the database.

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