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Fact Sheet - eTrace: Internet-Based Firearms Tracing and Analysis

May, 2022
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Fast Facts

  1. eTrace helps identify gun traffickers, potential suspects and patterns of violent gun crime to help law enforcement agencies solve criminal cases. 

  2. eTrace helps criminal investigators quickly trace down the origin and purchaser of crime guns to support criminal prosecutions. 

  3. Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies use eTrace to input and access firearms trace data.

eTrace is a web-based application that traces the purchase and/or use history of firearms used in violent crimes. The system, available in both English and Spanish, is key in generating investigative leads to help solve violent crimes across the country. These leads help law enforcement agencies quickly identify potential firearm traffickers and suspects in criminal investigations. Firearms tracing through eTrace provides for the systematic tracing of a recovered firearm from the original manufacturer or importer, through the subsequent distribution chain (wholesaler/retailer) in order to identify an unlicensed purchaser. 

The data in eTrace comes from local, state, federal, and international law enforcement agencies. Authorized users can search eTrace data fields such as agency name, gun serial number, type of crime, recovery date and names of people involved. In addition, participating law enforcement agencies can opt to share firearms trace data with all other eTrace users in their state. eTrace thus allows its users to detect patterns of violent crime across jurisdictions. 

The Numbers

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firearms trace requests were processed by the National Tracing Center in fiscal year 2021


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law enforcement agencies use eTrace in their investigations, including 49 agencies from 48 foreign countries.

A forensics specialist recovers a firearm and bullets from a crime sceneHow eTrace Makes a Difference

When firearms are found at a crime scene, it is critical for investigators to quickly trace down the origin of the weapons and any possible suspects. eTrace serves as a one-stop shop for comparing firearms data across multiple jurisdictions, helping agencies close cases faster. The benefits of eTrace include:

  • Robust statistical reports that readily generate new investigative leads
  • Faster processing of firearms trace requests 
  • Targeted trace data relevant to a specific state or local jurisdiction 
  • Real-time data verification and trace status updates

eTrace is part of the broader ATF mission to catch violent offenders and criminal suppliers, and get their firearms off the street. ATF is constantly looking to leverage technology like eTrace to streamline the investigative process. 

Combating Violent Crime

eTrace is the primary investigatory tool of ATF’s National Tracing Center (NTC). ATF is the sole federal agency authorized to trace firearms, however ATF is only authorized to trace firearms for law enforcement agencies involved in a bona fide criminal investigations. ATF provides the eTrace application free of charge to authorized law enforcement agencies.  

The eTrace system allows law enforcement agencies to conduct comprehensive traces of recovered crime guns and establish potential leads in their investigations.  The system also provides an information platform that allows agencies to develop long-term strategies on how best to reduce firearms-related crime, firearms trafficking and violence in their communities. 

Additional Resources

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