RICHMOND, Va. -- A test project in Virginia is allowing law enforcement agencies to share information on guns used in crimes.
The program gives police instant access to a database that can help them link suspects to guns in a criminal investigation. It also could help detect potential gun traffickers and straw purchasers, and identify patterns of weapon trafficking.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/17ZJR1H) reports 25 law enforcement agencies in Virginia have signed agreements to share gun crime data since the program was launched in July.
The program is an expansion of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Electronic Tracing System based in Martinsburg, W.Va.
ATF Special Agent April Carroll says authorities plan to expand the program to other states. She said Illinois and Maryland are next in line.
Carroll said police agencies must share their data in order to receive information in return.
"It's basically a pay-to-play system," Carroll said. "If you opt in, you have access to all the other pool of data for all the other agencies that have also chosen to opt in. So it's reciprocal, and the data is immediately available and it's instantaneous sharing."
Various laws and spending bills have specifically barred the ATF from creating a national database of guns and gun owners. And due to the efforts of lawmakers, including former Rep. Todd Tiahrt of Kansas, ATF agents who trace the history of a gun can't share that information with anyone but the police agency that asked for it.