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ATF report shows 'epidemic' of stolen guns, legally bought guns used in crimes more quickly

ATF recently released a sweeping federal gun crime report, and Washington lawmakers are working to tackle many of the issues in the current legislative session.

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — The U.S. Department of Justice recently released its first sweeping federal gun crime report in 20 years and Washington lawmakers are working to tackle many of the issues in the current legislative session.

Much of the information in the report hasn’t been widely available before. The report looks at firearms recovered in crimes from 2017 to 2021.

The goal of its release is to help police and lawmakers reduce gun violence.

One of the big problems highlighted is what Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco described as the “epidemic of stolen guns.”

The report shows that from 2017 to 2021, there were more than a million guns reported stolen, with nearly all, 96% stolen from private citizens.

That’s an issue Tacoma police warned about earlier this week. It said a gun is stolen out of a vehicle every 48 hours. 

In 2022, 202 guns were stolen out of vehicles in Tacoma, according to the police department.

This month, a 17-year-old was arrested in Tacoma after police said he shot and killed a 14-year-old with a stolen gun, though it was from a house, not a car.

Another key point the report shows is a shorter time between when a gun is purchased legally and when it's recovered from a crime scene. 

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) referred to it as a “time to crime” period and said when those periods are shorter it indicates gun trafficking or a straw purchase, where someone who can legally buy a gun purchases one and sells it to someone who can’t legally own one.

The report shows that nearly a quarter of guns traced were bought less than a year before showing up at a crime scene. 

“This ATF report and others show that there are still some gaps in the system and we've got to address them to make sure that we're keeping guns out of the wrong hands,” said Sen. Marko Liias (D) - District 21.

Liias backed two pieces of legislation to tackle that. The first would create legal liability to hold firearm retailers and manufacturers accountable.

“Just like we did in the opioid space, if somebody knows that a lot of the products they're selling are going to the wrong place, they have some responsibility to try and stop that,” Liias said.

Liias said the second would require a permit to purchase a gun, “not waiting until after the fact to find out if someone fails a background check, but actually having to get a permit in advance of making that initial purchase.”

This comes as last year saw a rise in gun violence. Seattle Police Department’s crime dashboard shows an increase in shootings and shots fired in 2022. That same year was the deadliest in the city of Tacoma’s history. According to the police department, 45 of Pierce County’s 79 homicides occurred in Tacoma last year, and 43 of them were shootings.

Liias said Washington has taken a number of steps to strengthen its gun laws but there is more to be done.

“We've banned the use of high capacity magazines of the bump stocks, like was used in the Las Vegas tragedy, and yet, we're still seeing unfortunately, more gun violence in our cities and on our streets and in our communities. What we’ve done is maybe slowing down that crime wave but it’s not stopping it,” Liias.

Washington lawmakers are also proposing an assault weapons ban. A measure that is supported by the state’s attorney general and the governor.

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