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ATF Gun Data Lacked Detail On Drug Connection

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Matt Parrilla
/
VPR
Vermont was one of seven states for which the majority of firearms traced to the state were recovered out of the state, according to ATF data.

In response to a Feb. 7 story on the connection between gun trafficking and drug trafficking in Vermont, a number of readers have written to VPR to call attention to statistics generated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that show the number of firearms recovered by law enforcement in other states and traced back to Vermont.

VPR was aware of this data prior to publishing the story, but determined that the ATF numbers didn’t comprehensively show the role firearms play in the drug trade.

ATF data for 2012 shows the total number of guns traced through the ATF’s National Tracing Center. It contains data for how many guns were recovered in each state and how many guns were traced back to each state.

But the National Tracing Center data does not represent all crime guns recovered and not all guns traced through the center were used in a crime. Some were recovered as part of unrelated law enforcement investigations.

  • In 2012, Vermont was the source for 265 traced firearms.
  • 125 of those guns were recovered inside the state.
  • The majority (53 percent) were recovered out of the state.
  • Vermont was one of eight states for which the majority of firearms traced to the state were recovered out of the state.
  • Vermont was the fifth highest state for the percentage of guns recovered out of state.

Our story focused on firearms being used as currency in the drug trade. The ATF data is not specific about the nature of the crimes, if any, the guns were involved in. Therefore, the data does not show links to the drug trade. However, Vermont’s federal prosecutor, Tristram Coffin, and the top agent for ATF, Jim Mostyn, said this type of transaction is happening regularly.
Finally, the ATF data prior to 2012 is less extensive and only names the top 15 source states for firearms recovered in a given state. As a result, it was not possible to gather trend data for the movement of guns out of or into Vermont. We hope that further searching through court records will help illuminate the role that Vermont guns play in the interstate drug trade.

Correction: An earlier version of this article innaccurately stated that Vermont was the sixth highest state for the percentage of guns recovered out of state. It is fifth.

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