| HOUSTON (APBnews.com) -- If you can let people know quickly and easily if a gun is stolen, then maybe you can cut crime, too.
At least that's the basic idea behind a new Web site called www.IsThisGunStolen.com
that, starting today, will let anyone search its national database to check out the history of a gun. It will also allow police and citizens to report stolen weapons, said its founders, Ron West and Chris Caruso.
"It has been said that criminals will always get guns, but if we can help reduce the value
of stolen guns, or make them a greater liability to the criminal, we strongly believe
that we can help reduce crime in the long run and perhaps even save lives," Caruso said.
The database allows people to search for information on firearms for free, but requires a
$5 fee to post an unlimited number of stolen guns. The fee is paid by a credit card through a secure site. The credit card also verifies the identity of the person making the claim, Caruso said.
Cops have their own
A national online database of guns is not a new idea. Law enforcement agencies have been stepping up their efforts to track and monitor guns, bullets, and cartridges, and an online computer network for tracing guns was started last year by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), which holds information on more than 1 million traced guns.
The system, called Online Lead, is run by the ATF, a branch of the U.S. Treasury Department that traditionally conducts weapons traces. ATF agents can access criminal gun traces and data on guns used in murders, robberies or other crimes. They also can examine multiple gun sales to look for patterns that may indicate illegal shipments of guns or bulk purchases of guns that will end up on the black market elsewhere.
The FBI and ATF also have collaborated on a database called the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN). The agencies have about 500,000 of the 220 million firearms in the country in the database, and are scheduled to have 800,000 by 2002. Digital cameras are used to photograph bullets and cartridges, and the photos are scanned into a computer, where they are analyzed by a software program and stored in a database waiting for bullets or cartridges fired from the same gun to be
scanned at some future point.
Selling a stolen gun
www.IsThisGunStolen.com is the first gun database for civilians. Some police departments, such as San Antonio's, will check the history of a firearm for the public for free, crime prevention officer Gilbert De La Portilla said, but most won't.
That leads to situations in which people unknowingly purchase stolen weapons and don't learn of it until they try to resell them to businesses like pawn shops, which routinely check the serial numbers of firearms, West said. The database can help would-be buyers avoid such pitfalls, he said.
West and Caruso do not plan to rely solely on the public to build the
database. They hope to gain access to the FBI's National Crime Information Center, a database that law enforcement uses to check for stolen items, descriptions of suspects, and criminal background histories and active warrants. Access to the database would be restricted to
checking for stolen firearms, they said.
West and Caruso said their database will eventually allow police to search for firearms by the type, area code, state or zip code. They also hope to add a feature so that gun owners can report their stolen guns not just to the database, but also to the police simultaneously, without having to file a police report.
Looking for help from police
The founders said they hope that the Web site, hosted by Worldwide Systems Analysis, a Houston-area Web hosting and design firm, will be used as another tool by the nation's 30,000 law enforcement agencies.
The five founding members are either former police officers, related to police officers, or are actively involved in local law enforcement community groups, and West and Caruso have begun talks with law enforcement agencies on working together. So far, they report that many of them have responded favorably to the project.
The Web site also plans to offer rewards to people who provide information on stolen firearms that are recovered by police. The rewards will be funded in part by the user fees, they said.
Tracing guns and ammunition, especially those used to commit a crime, has long been tough for police to handle and enforce with 220 million firearms in the country.