Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said at present only about one-third, or 4,000, of the nation's law enforcement agencies are enrolled in a federal law enforcement registry for tracking illegal guns. Participating agencies report information about the make, model and serial number of guns seized as part of criminal investigations.
The registry, called eTrace, tracks the gun's serial number back to the manufacturer and original legal purchaser, which Durbin said can provide local investigators with valuable leads in an investigation.
In order to force greater participation in eTrace, Durbin announced legislation Monday that would modify the federal COPS grant program to require agencies to include whether they are enrolled in the program, how many times they used it, how many times they could have used it and an explanation for why it wasn't used in some instances.
Agencies that use eTrace, operated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, would be given first crack at COPS grants under the legislation, dubbed the Crime Gun Tracing Act.
Durbin emphasized eTrace does not record information about lawful gun purchases, only firearms used in a crime.
He said information gleaned from tracking the movement of illegal guns will make solving crimes easier for police.
"Crime gun tracing is one of the most basic and powerful tools available to law enforcement as they investigate violent crimes," he said. "The information gleaned from a trace can help generate leads in identifying the person who used the gun to commit a crime and, when all guns in an area are traced, it can help law enforcement identify broader crime gun trends and trafficking patterns."