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Even with help of ATF, tracking firearm can lead to dead end

The Smith & Wesson 9 mm pistol recovered by Seattle police after a shooting at Twilight Exit bar on Sunday was not registered to the gunman, but was not reported stolen. (Photo: SPD)

Seattle police say they will try to track down the origin of a gun used to shoot two people inside a Central District bar Sunday.

The Smith & Wesson 9 mm pistol recovered by Seattle police after the shooting at Twilight Exit was not registered to the gunman, but was not reported stolen.

James D. Anderson, 32, walked into the bar on East Cherry Street shortly after 10:15 p.m. After shooting his former girlfriend and a bouncer, he was shot and killed by a Seattle police officer.

According to police, Anderson was not authorized to own a firearm due his criminal history.

A spokesperson for the Seattle Police Department said officers track every weapon used to commit a crime within the city, but often seek help from agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives.

“It’s a process of trying to track down and sometimes it can come to a dead end,” said ATF Special Agent Cheryl Bishop, who is based in Seattle.

Bishop said once agents are given the guns make, model and serial number, their first step is to go to the manufacturer. The manufacturer can lead agents to the distributor, which should be able to tell them the gun dealer who first sold the firearm.

Every gun dealer registered with the federal government will have filled out an ATF Form 4473, which will tell agents who the firearm’s original owner was. Because such forms are not entered into a central computer database, agents must sometimes pour through papers by hand to get the information.

From there, agents track the gun’s movements – sometimes from private seller to private seller – a difficult process due to the lack of paperwork required in private sales.

“The older the firearm is, the higher the chances are you may come to a dead end,” Bishop said. “It’s extremely labor intensive.”

About the Author

Brandi Kruse

Brandi Kruse is a reporter for KIRO Radio who is as spontaneous and adventurous in her free time as she is on the job. Brandi arrived at KIRO Radio in March 2011 and has already collected three regional Edward R. Murrow awards for her reporting.


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