Facing down the latest mass shooting, the Boston City Council is quickly moving on an ordinance that would task police with compiling annual data on firearms trafficking, a measure aimed at cutting down on gun violence.
The ordinance, discussed at a Monday morning hearing of the government operations committee, is listed as “matters recently heard for possible action,” on the Wednesday City Council meeting agenda.
Council President Ed Flynn, who co-sponsored the ordinance, said it is modeled in part, after a similar measure that was passed in New York City last year.
“From community violence to domestic violence to violence against oneself, guns remain a particularly dangerous weapon of choice,” Councilor Brian Worrell, the other co-sponsor, said. “This data is critical for policymakers and law enforcement to do their jobs and keep our community safe.
“We cannot continue to sit idly by while our communities are repeatedly traumatized by violence, mainly because the weapon was purchased beyond our jurisdiction.”
While Worrell said Massachusetts and New England generally have strong gun laws, the actions taken there to staunch gun trafficking and violence are undermined by states with less restrictive laws.
According to the ordinance, only 10% of firearms recovered at city crime scenes in 2021 were purchased in Massachusetts, while the rest were brought into Massachusetts by 18 other states. Some are coming from “as far as Georgia and Florida,” Worrell said.
Among the data that the Boston Police Department would be required to submit to the Council and mayor, per an annual report, is whether the firearm was connected to a crime, where it originated, the date it was seized and surrendered and the date it was last sold legally, whether it was a ghost gun or created using a 3-D printer, and information on the dealer, including whether that person is registered.
Basic information, such as the make, model, type and serial number of a firearm, the manufacturer or importer of the weapon, and if it is registered in any state or federal database, would also be included in the report, if the ordinance is approved.
Ryan Walsh, deputy director of the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, the investigative arm of the city’s police department, said that while the BRIC already tracks much of the information the Council is asking for, it has limited success with tracking ghost and 3-D-printed guns.
The recovery of privately-manufactured ghost guns, or unserialized and untraceable firearms that can be bought online and assembled at home, are a “significant firearm trend,” that the department considers to be a “major concern,” Police Superintendent Felipe Colon said.
To date, in 2023, BPD has recovered 59 ghost guns. Last year, 104 were recovered, a 79% uptick from 2021. Two years earlier, in 2019, the department recovered just 16, Colon said.
While the number of ghost guns recovered represents a small percentage of total firearm recoveries — 15% in 2022 for example — “the presence of this type of firearm on our streets presents a unique challenge to our investigators and puts the community at additional risk,” Colon said.
Colon said the department is also “extremely concerned” with after-market modifications, like auto sears or glock switches, that convert semi-automatic guns into fully-automatic, machine-gun-style weapons.
Unlike in the past, where someone needed a warehouse to produce these weapons, people are now creating or modifying firearms in their apartments and basements, police officials said. The purpose is two-pronged, they say, with those engaging in gun trafficking either looking to obtain a weapon or make money.
While there have been 18% fewer shootings and 11 fewer shooting victims this year, the amount of firearms recovered has been on the rise, Colon said. There were 895 guns recovered in 2022, a 7% increase in guns, 695 of which were characterized as crime guns, or 9% more than the prior year.
In 2022, approximately 10% of the crime guns recovered by BPD were reported stolen. Of those reported stolen, 33% were reported stolen from Massachusetts, 18% from Maine and 11% from Georgia, Colon said.
To date, in 2023, 602 firearms have been recovered in the city — 415 of those firearms are considered to be crime guns, Colon said.
According to the ordinance, the Council sees the data that would be collected in an annual BPD report as a way to help law enforcement and policymakers determine action to stem gun trafficking.
“Gun violence is an important issue not only here in Boston, but throughout the country,” Flynn said. “We need to address gun violence on multiple fronts, and it’s critical that we work together to stop the illegal flow of firearms into our neighborhoods.”