City Council may require annual report on illegal gun trafficking

Local News

Councilors are considering an ordinance that would require Boston Police to study the flow of illegal guns into Boston and release an annual public report.

A plastic gun put on display by Massachusetts law enforcement officials during a press conference on gun trafficking in 2022. David L. Ryan/Boston Globe

In the wake of a shooting in Dorchester that left five people wounded, including a  juvenile with life-threatening injuries, Boston City Council is looking to address the flow of firearms into the city. 

In a hearing Monday, multiple councilors discussed an ordinance that would require the Boston Police Department to study and create a report each year on the trafficking of illegal guns into Boston. Multiple types of data would be reviewed, with the goal of helping lawmakers and police decrease how many illegal weapons are brought into the city. 

“From community violence to domestic violence to violence against oneself, guns remain a particularly dangerous weapon of choice. While Boston and New England have moved to protect our citizens, our efforts are undermined by the actions of others,” Councilor Brian Worrell said. Worrell represents District 4, where the Dorchester shooting occurred. 

The ordinance is on the agenda for Wednesday’s full City Council meeting, listed as “for possible action.”

There were more than 170 shootings in Boston last year, according to the ordinance, and illegal gun trafficking is inextricably tied to this violence. Of all the guns recovered in Boston in 2021 and traced using a government database, just 10% were purchased in Massachusetts. The rest were brought into the state from 18 other states.

In the report, officials would have to list information about every gun recovered or surrendered in the city and obtained by police. This would include details about whether the gun was connected to a crime, where the gun originated, registration information, whether or not it was made using a 3D printer, and more. 

Officials would also have to review the specific ways that guns make their way into Boston, including information about gun trafficking on highways and over the water. 

Councilor Michael Flaherty said that supporting and coordinating with BPD is essential to addressing gun violence, and called out some of his colleagues for not doing so in the past. 

Flaherty had pushed for $2.55 million in grants to support the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, operated by BPD. The fusion center, known as BRIC, has come under scrutiny from the ACLU of Massachusetts and others. Last week, City Council rejected those grants by a 7-5 vote. 

“In addition to thoughts and prayers to the victims of the senseless shootings last night, I want to give you guys the resources and the tools and the support that you need to do the job, to continue to make our city safe,” Flaherty said, addressing Police Superintendent Felipe Colon during the virtual hearing. “Unfortunately this council, specifically certain members, haven’t always done that.”

Law enforcement officials have seen success in decreasing the number of shooting victims in Boston, but guns remain as prevalent as ever. There have been 89 shooting incidents in Boston so far this year, down 18% from this time in 2022. There have been 11 fewer people wounded in shootings so far, an 8% decrease compared to this time last year and a 20% decrease compared to the five-year average, Colon said. 

However, BPD recovered 890 guns in 2022, a 7% increase compared to 2021. Of those guns, 695 were involved in a crime, 9% more than in 2021. Recoveries of guns used in crimes have been increasing each year since at least 2019, according to Colon. 

Colon, who heads BPD’s Bureau of Investigative Services, said that the department was seriously concerned about the privately manufactured firearms known as ghost guns. There were 104 ghost guns recovered in 2022, a 79% increase from 2021. Only 16 ghost guns were recovered as recently as 2019. 

Another concern for BPD officials is the occurrence of aftermarket modifications to firearms, making them fully automatic, Colon said. The use of 3D printers to make these modifications is worrying, and officials have seen the average number of rounds fired during a shooting increase. 

BPD officials said that they were generally supportive of the ordinance, but could be restricted by federal laws in terms of what specific information can be shared with the mayor and City Council.