With gun crime on the rise, the state’s two top officials on Thursday announced a $10.5 million investment in technology and personnel to detect fugitive weapons in all jurisdictions.
Announcing the program, Gov. Mike DeWine denied that when he signed legislation earlier this month to abolish gun licensing regulations, he could have helped make the gun violence problem worse.
DeWine met with Attorney General Dave Yost and senior state and local police officials at the Bureau of Criminal Investigation Headquarters in London to announce improvements to the state’s involvement in the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN).
The network uploads information about used shell casings to its database so police elsewhere can see if they match casings collected from crime scenes in their jurisdiction. Individual weapons leave unique marks on cartridge cases, so comparisons of these marks can identify weapons used in multiple crimes.
The system “doesn’t solve crimes, it generates leads,” Yost said.
These clues are badly needed in Ohio right now.
In the 2020 pandemic year, reported gun crime was up 26%, DeWine said, adding that over the past 18 months, 1,000 Ohioans were injured in gun crimes and 650 were killed.
Firearm deaths in Buckeye state have increased 47% over the past decade to 1,789 last year, according to Ohio Department of Health data.
The technology Ohio leaders plan to use to solve gun crimes isn’t new. There are currently six machines in the state that can analyze cartridge cases and upload those analyzes to the NIBIN database.
Last October, a trucker stopped to check his load on the Ohio Turnpike when he spotted a gun by the side of the road and reported it, said Col. Richard S. Fambro, superintendent of the state highway patrol. The police fired the gun, analyzed the casing in a machine in Toledo and uploaded the analysis to the NIBIN database.
In January, an analysis found that “the weapon was actually used in a murder in Akron,” Fabro said. “This gun was subsequently turned over to an Akron Police Department detective who was conducting an ongoing investigation.”
As the example shows, technology may not solve gun crimes, but it can provide valuable clues and provide potential evidence. The problem, Yost and DeWine said, is that the database has too many holes.
To fill them, the money announced Thursday will buy seven more NIBIN machines to be set up across the state, add staff to operate them and allow local authorities to have guns and shells analyzed for free.
The more complete the database, the more valuable it becomes as a crime-fighting tool, as police across the state are more likely to find matches to weapons and casings used in crimes in their jurisdictions elsewhere. In that sense, the database works similarly to fingerprint and DNA databases, Yost said.
But for the governor, a desire to solve gun crimes could conflict with a law he signed into law on March 14 that looks set to create more of the same. In June, all Ohioans age 21 and older who are legally allowed to own guns can carry concealed weapons without a permit or training.
There’s reason to believe the law will result in more gun deaths in a country that eclipsed car accidents as the leading single cause of traumatic deaths in 2018.
The number of gun-related deaths varies widely from state to state, and some studies have shown that those whose laws provide for easier access to firearms have more gun-related fatalities — including suicides, which account for most gun-related deaths.
The causes of gun homicides are less clear, but the American Public Health Association in 2017 correlated states with looser gun laws with higher rates of handgun homicides.
DeWine was asked if by signing Ohio’s permitless carry law into law, he was actually paving the way for more gun crimes to be solved.
Without saying it outright, DeWine seemed to deny that easier access to guns could lead to more homicides.
“Criminals are the people you need to worry about,” he said, referring to a study he conducted while he was attorney general. It concluded that most violent crimes in Ohio since 1974 have been committed by repeat offenders, he said.
“The reality is, if someone was signed before this[permitless carry]act and a criminal wants a gun on them, they’re going to have a gun on them,” DeWine said. “The problem is the people. The problem is the criminals. You have to go after the perpetrators of violence and lock them up and keep them locked up.”
This story was originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal and is republished here with permission.
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