IT and Gun Control

The ATF applies IT gingerly when it comes to gun control.

Gun control, of course, is a touchy political subject. The right to bear arms is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights and is a rallying point for potent lobbyists. While it is legal to trace guns, it is illegal for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to create a database of gun owners. So while the technology exists that could yield the information that a certain citizen owns 100 pistols, 20 grenade launchers and a dozen semi-automatic weapons—each with sufficient firepower to penetrate concrete blocks—no law enforcement agency can know that and subsequently identify the individual as "high risk" without violating that individual's constitutional rights. There is no database that will yield information about gun owners—only about guns.

As long as a manufacturer stays in business, a gun's records remain with the manufacturer, but if a manufacturer goes out of business, those records go to the ATF. So one IT project now underway is to archive old gun records—on microfiche. Deputy Director Bradley A. Buckles explains, "Anything more efficient risks political annoyance." Microfiche records are cleaned of citizen identities and then fed to a database. That database has indeed speeded things up. For local law enforcement agencies requesting help from the agency, that's a boon.

Copyright © 1999 IDG Communications, Inc.

Survey says! Share your insights in our 2020 CIO Tech Poll.