Conservative Nightmare: How Budget Cuts May Hamper the Investigation into Where the Tsarnaev Brothers Got Their Guns

Anti-government extremists might be surprised to learn about all the ways budget cuts affect them, including all-important crime-fighting.

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The nation’s only crime gun tracing facility has laid off 90 people as a result of millions in cuts from sequestration, ThinkProgress has learned. The reductions come as federal officials are still working to track down where suspected Boston bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev acquired the firearms they used to kill an MIT police officer and engage in a shootout with law enforcement officials last week.

The National Tracing Center (NTC) is part of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and provides law enforcement with information about gun trafficking, guns used in crimes, and stolen weapons. In 2012, NTC processed close to 350,000 trace requests and officials worry that the cuts and resulting staffing shortfalls will undermine tracing efforts and impede ongoing police investigations. Sources tell ThinkProgress that as a result of sequestration, NTC may face significant delays in indexing vital records, processing urgent requests and identifying stolen firearms.

Ironically, the job losses will impact employees in West Virginia, a state represented by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). Last week, the moderate Democrat championed a failed measure to expand background checks and keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.

ATF has long been in the crosshairs of the budget debate. President Obama proposed a 12.8 percent reduction in the bureau’s budget for 2012, before reversing himself after the shooting of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. ATF has also been without a director since 2006.

The Tsarnaev brothers may have used up to three guns in their rampage, though neither had a license to carry a weapon in Massachusetts. It’s unclear if the reductions will affect the Tsarnaev case, though officials fear that lower profile murders and shootings could be impacted.


Igor Volsky is a vice president at the Center for American Progress and the deputy director for the Center for American Progress Action Fund.