Tuesday, May 01, 2007

From the other side of the retail curtain...

Sometimes I am reminded that certain facets of my line of work are as mysterious to other people as theirs are to me. In a recent post, Jeff Soyer quotes from an editorial from the Penn State Collegian:

Police rely heavily on databases when looking into gun ownership. Under the new bill, police would be forced to directly contact gun manufacturers in order to obtain gun ownership information. Time is a critical component when investigating crimes, especially those involving guns.

...and then Jeff goes on to fret about manufacturer warranty cards. Except that, contrary to the anonymous editorializer, police do not rely on databases, calling the manufacturer, warranty cards, or anything like that.

When the police get their hands on a gun used in a crime, who they call is the BATFE, not the manufacturer. The BATFE turns to its National Tracing Center and gets the ball rolling. Let's say the gun in question is a Blastomatic Euroshooter 2000, serial number XYZ123. The NTC would call Blastomatic USA, Inc. and inquire as to the disposition of gun XYZ123. Blastomatic would consult its records which, according to the Gun Control Act of 1968, it must maintain for twenty years. It determines that the gun was sold to The Very Big Sports Wholesale Co. back in February of 2006, and informs the NTC of this. The NTC then contacts The Very Big Co., who tells them that the gun was shipped to Billy Bob's House of Blasters in November of '06. (Slow selling model...)

Now Billy Bob's gets a call. The person at Billy Bob's who handles their log books (which, remember, must be maintained for twenty years) looks up the gun in question, and relays to the NTC operator that gun #XYZ123 was sold to a Mr. John Doe on March 25, 2007. Finally, John Doe is going to get a call. This is why it's good to keep a Bill of Sale if you sell a "papered" gun to a stranger.

Federally licensed firearms dealers are usually only too happy to check that serial number. The NTC isn't used to check and see if a gun is stolen; the cops can do that via the National Crime Information Center, usually using the laptop in their squad car. The NTC is used when a mysterious gun is found in relation to a crime; sometimes in the vicinity of a cooling body. If I can help get to the bottom of something like that, well, I'm all about it.

As you can see, no warranty cards were consulted in this production, so go ahead and fill them out or not as you please, but understand why you're doing it.

In the comments section, someone then (predictably) mentioned Using Credit Cards At The Gun Store. I know that in Tom Clancy productions and William Gibson-esque dystopian futures, when you use a credit card, it "sends up a flare in cyberspace" and some government console jockey or rogue hacker squinting at a screen yells "We got him, boss! He just bought a used Glock and 500 rounds of 9mm ammunition at Joe's Hunting Shack using his Visa card!"

Except it doesn't work that way. If they were so hot on your trail that they were actively monitoring your financial activity, at best they'd know that you spent $599.78 at Joe's on April 30th at 5:39 PM. For them to discover whether you were buying a Glock or a shotgun or a tree stand or annual range memberships for your golfing buddies or a gift certificate for your mom is going to require a warrant and a trip to the shop in meatspace. All Joe did is punch a dollar figure into a credit card terminal; the bank hasn't a clue what that money was spent on.

Gun shop owners and personnel tend to be a conservative lot, in the classic definition of the term. A surprising number are still uncomputerized in this day and age, and even those of us who are are going to want to see a warrant or a subpoena before we divulge any customer information of that nature. I also suspect that any nation-wide demand for that data en masse for some kind of National Registration scheme would see a rash of hard drive failures from coast to coast. Pesky Windows always was unreliable, you know.


Anonymous said...

So what happens to the retained records after twenty years?

What if the seller goes out of business before twenty years?

Tam said...

After twenty years they may be destroyed.

If the company goes out of business, the records are maintained by the .gov for twenty years before ditto. Or so we are given to believe.

Anonymous said...

I have often wondered why the feds need to know long gun or pistol when the background check is performed...also are they given a serial number to the firearm?

Tam said...

The Feds are not given the serial #, nor the make & model.

They ask "Handgun or Long Gun?" and compare it to the buyer's birth date, so as to prevent under-21s from buying handguns.

Our state doesn't run through NICS, but rather TICS. They do ask the serial #, as they check for stolen guns at time of purchase. They are, by state law, not to keep that data on record, merely to compare it to the NCIC. Beleive or not as you wish. I know only what I know.

Anonymous said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, was just curious. I'm not worried about it. It was just one of those things that make you go hmmmm.

Anonymous said...

I think that's a good thing for people to hear. To be honest, I've never filled out the warranty cards, but it has more to do with being too lazy than being worried it's secret registration.

Brandon said...

Excellent and informative post, Tam. If I ever open a gun store, it'll be named Billy Bob's House of Blasters (with your permission and in your honor, of course, lest you kneecap me for plagiarism).

In the Great State of Mississippi, a quicky phone call is placed to NCIC, wherein no firearm info is relayed other than "handgun" or "long gun". If you've availed yourself of the state-issued license to carry, no phone call is made at all. You signs the forms and you leaves wit yo gun.

Sifting through old paper forms in a box in storage someplace is hardly the most efficient way to relay information to the black helicopters hovering overhead, despite the worries of those who only buy "non-papered guns FTF".

Then again, I could just be some software on a computer in ATF headquarters monitoring every internet post ever submitted....

Anonymous said...

Except it doesn't work that way. If they were so hot on your trail that they were actively monitoring your financial activity, at best they'd know that you spent $599.78 at Joe's on April 30th at 5:39 PM.

Use that same credit card at the grocery store, however, and you'll have them compiling a list, checking it twice, and selling the info of whether or not you buy cat food or dog food or baby diapers to anyone who comes around with a little jingle.

I sincerely hope and expect that my arms dealer is a tad more discreet.

So do y'all do a yearly records burning 'n pig roast or something? How would the average gun shop deal with records the tobacco ninjas no longer compel them to keep?

Anonymous said...

I used to reject the grocery cards for a long time because of that, but then one day I thought

"Do I really care if other people know what brand of toothpaste I buy?"

And now I have half a dozen of them. I also figure if they know what I like to buy, they know what to keep in stock.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of hard drive failures; We "stress tested" three hard drives on Saturday.

The drives failed.

Five pounds of HE will do that to a hard drive.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, Tam,...due to a Scotus ruling, The Illinois state police have database access to NATIONWIDE gun sales and are keeping a registry.
those SOBS are compiling a list of everyone who buys a firearm nowdays.
that way..if someone doesn't renew their foid card..they can bust them.
Its an infringement of rights but then again..ISP are the ones that advocate a woman puking on herself to make herself less attractive to a rapist...collective stupidity at its best (or worst)

Tam said...

"those SOBS are compiling a list of everyone who buys a firearm nowdays."

I'd be interested in knowing the mechanics of how they're doing that.

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