The anti-gun group Everytown for Gun Safety is partnering with the city of Baltimore to pilot a new gun-tracking software that purports to help police locate gun dealers selling firearms to criminals.
“By aggregating data, you are not solving one crime at a time, but you’re actually seeing patterns that allow you to unlock trafficking enterprises,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, told Axios. “Cities have been operating largely in the dark, and this tool is really a flashlight.”
Feinblatt hopes the software will be used by other cities as well.
“Baltimore is a great test case, and, if successful there, I think that we will move it to other cities,” Feinblatt said.
An anti-gun stronghold, Baltimore has struggled for years with high rates of violent crime. In 2019, the city saw a record-setting 348 murders, and in 2020 the city posted the fifth highest number of murders per capita of any U.S. city.
City leaders are hoping that identifying and prosecuting illegal, out-of-state gun dealers can help stem the bleeding.
“We know that these weapons are taking lives from us,” said Baltimore mayor Brandon Scott. “Children. Women. Men. Grandparents. Fathers. Uncles. Mothers.”
The firearms industry worries that Everytown’s system is a covert attempt to “name and shame” gun dealers that mistakenly sell a firearm to a straw purchaser. Right now, the Tiahrt Amendment prohibits gun trace data from being made public, but Everytown’s privatized system puts that prohibition in jeopardy.
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“Anti-gun politicians will tell you up and down the line that they want to release Tiahrt Amendment data because they want to ‘expose bad gun dealers,'” Mark Oliva, public affairs director for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, told GunsAmerica. “What it could involve is people who are completely unaware. So, if there is a straw purchase at Mark’s Gun Shop, and I had no idea because someone lied on the 4473… this system starts to flag Mark’s Gun Shop as a bad gun dealer.”
Oliva pointed out that everyone in the gun industry wants to root out and prosecute bad actors, but this system could be used to target innocent, law-abiding gun dealers.
Everytown’s software compiles and analyzes information such as gun trace data, ballistics, and shot spotter technology, though its unclear how the organization obtains that data or whether it comes from state or federal sources.
“It takes all of this information and pulls it all together,” Nick Suplina, Managing Director for Law & Policy with Everytown for Gun Safety, told Fox45.
“This tool allows us to look up stream at the sources of those guns and try to cut the problem off at the source,” he continued. “The city of Baltimore, the state of Maryland can have all the gun laws on the books, but if things can easily be trafficked from other states then what good are those laws?”
The mayor elaborated on the technology in an interview with the Baltimore Sun. He said the software will allow police to tell, for example, if a person with 10 handguns had purchased them at different stores or at one location.
“In essence, what this tool does [is] it enables our detectives to see the full picture of guns fueling the violence here in Baltimore,” Scott said. “With a few clicks, our detectives can see patterns related to where our crime guns are coming from, who they’re coming from and also allows them to see connections between where guns are coming from and how they’re being used on the streets.”
It’s unclear what protections are in place to prevent law-abiding gun dealers from being harassed if the software malfunctions. Everytown did not respond to a GunsAmerica request for comment by publication time.
This isn’t the first big-data software that claims to help police track down bad gun dealers. The Oakland Police Department began using a similar program in 2012, and while it’s been hailed as a success by the city, experts caution that such programs are prone to factual errors and even racial bias.
“There’s a lot of bad data that gets put in these systems,” University of the District of Columbia law professor Andrew Ferguson told The Trace in 2019. “You know the dangers of bad search engines. We shouldn’t blindly trust a search engine that claims it can be the Google for police data.”