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New Baltimore Program Aims To Study Flow Of Guns Into City

Screenshot via CharmTV

Baltimore will pilot a new program to track the flow of illegal guns into the city, in an effort to determine how guns that have origins outside of Maryland wind up in the hands of local criminals. 

“What this tool does is enable our detectives to see the full picture of guns fueling violence in Baltimore, the majority of which come from outside our community,” Mayor Brandon Scott said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference. “Without getting a handle on the supply and flow of guns into our streets, we will not be able to get a handle on the violence.” 


The program, the Gun Trafficking Intelligence Platform, was developed by and offered to Baltimore by Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates against gun violence and for gun control. The organization, known as Everytown, was founded and is largely financed by Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City. 


Baltimore’s painful problem of gun trafficking is well established: The mayor’s office noted that of the 2,543 weapons seized in Baltimore last year, 82% originated from outside the city and 63% from outside Maryland. The city’s Gun Trace Task Force, a so-called elite unit of cops that in practice  robbed and extorted residents, was meant to get illegal firearms off the street.


“Gun trafficking is one of our most entrenched challenges in our city. These weapons are taking lives from children, women, men, grandparents, fathers, uncles, mothers.” Scott said. “We have a duty to focus this flow of guns, in addition to the police department’s focus on who is using them. It’s not an either-or.” 


The program is designed to track the movement of guns involved in crimes by aggregating information from public databases. It can identify entities that frequently sell guns that end up in Baltimore, such as gun shows and individual dealers. The software is also designed to identify straw purchasers — those who buy guns on behalf of others who are banned from owning them.


The program will analyze data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm’s e-Trace system, which collects information about gun movements from law enforcement agencies. It will also analyze ballistic evidence and data from ShotSpotter, Baltimore’s gunshot detection network.


The data can make clear the patterns of trafficking enterprises, John Feinblatt, president of Everytown, said in a statement to WYPR.


“When it comes to gun trafficking, cities have been operating largely in the dark, and this tool is an analytic flashlight,” Feinblatt said. “By connecting the dots on data, Baltimore will have the information it needs to help solve crimes, fight back against traffickers, and keep communities safe."


The program will be up and running within the month, Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said. It will be used in investigations and on beat patrol, he said.


“This data intelligence tool will enable detectives at the ground level to identify interesting gun patterns and identify leads that will identify problematic gun distributors, as well as geographic and social network connections of gun crimes,” Harrison said.


The pilot’s announcement comes after at least a dozen people, including several children, have been shot in the past five days.


On Tuesday, a 17-year-old was shot multiple times in the Bolton Hill neighborhood while he was washing car windows. The day before, a 12-year-old was shot in Northeast Baltimore’s Four by Four neighborhood. Two days before that, a stray bullet hit a 10-year-old girl in the chest as she was walking to buy a snack.  


“They all have my commitment to diligently working to change the reality in our city,” Scott said. “We have a lot of work to do.”


Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.
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