Improving the Traceability of Guns, Firearms and Weapons

Whilst firearm incidents in Australia sit below global averages, research by the Australia Institute found there are more guns in Australia today than before gun control laws were tightened in 1996. However, what is of most concern to unions, industry bodies, security forces, and law enforcement agencies, is the growing number of unregistered and illegally-sourced firearms, a trend which appears to directly correlate to a steady rise of firearms on the illicit market. Statistics collated by Gun Control Australia (GCA) indicate the number of guns stolen in Australia has doubled over a 10-year period – a figure not likely to tell the real ‘truth’ of the situation due to the under-reporting of theft. The majority of these stolen weapons are never recovered. A recent Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission report estimates there are now in excess of 260,000 firearms on the black market nationally.

Data Integrity Issues Prevalent Throughout Firearm Registration Systems

Considerable resources have been spent trying to improve the collection and sharing of gun license data since the 1996 National Firearms Agreement. But like most enterprise information systems, the endeavour has been plagued with issues of poor data quality, currency, consistency and completeness.

At a fundamental level, there are infrastructural flaws resulting from the existence of multiple database instances. These include state and territory firearm registers, armoury and ballistics inventories for law enforcement agencies, different systems for tracking stolen and detained goods, import and export control systems and more.

The NFLRS (National Firearms Licensing and Registration System) project, now AFIN (Australian Firearms Information Network), also known as the Nationwide Firearms Registry, was supposed to integrate all state and territory firearm licence databases and enable the exchange of information, but significant baseline data integrity issues, such as inconsistent, incomplete and out-of-date data, firearm miscodes and misclassifications, were never properly addressed.

For example, a Firearms Regulation Performance Audit of (just) the NSW Police Firearm records undertaken by the Auditor-General and presented to NSW Parliament on 28 February, 2019 cited:

• Out-of-date address details (up to 5 years) for licence holders and storage locations.
• Inadequate processes for consistent decision-making regarding breaches by licence holders.
• Processes did not validate the accuracy of new data added to the register.
• Data cleansing programs were either non-existent or discontinued.
• The registry had ceased its risk-based safe storage inspection program.
• An inability to report on performance indicators that would improve operational management. For example, measuring meet / fail stats from safe storage inspections could indicate whether compliance is improving or declining.

Consistent, Complete, Current, Correct Data – The Linchpin in Weapon Traceability

Without accurate historical insights and an easy way to capture real-time operational, lifecycle and chain-of-custody data from the field – along with the application of un-clonable, unique weapon identifiers – firearm authentication and traceability is almost impossible.

The issue demands a platform which provides for secure, item serialised records whose attributes and events can be updated by many collaborators – including non-government agencies such as gun importers, handling agents, perhaps even health care practitioners and other observers – and robust protocols for ensuring the quality, accuracy and security of the data updates.

In this scenario, a firearm can be traced from its source, through line of supply, to eventual safe destruction with a data-driven, digital audit trail that demonstrates chain-of-custody between hand offs from manufacturer to importers, resellers, owners, and police custody (if it occurs), disposal agents, and improving the likelihood of identifying the point of an unintended diversion.

Achieving Nationwide Firearm Visibility and Traceability

Relegen believes the technology platform exists today to solve these critical issues. Our enterprise asset intelligence solution – assetDNA – has been purpose-built and commercially-deployed across a wide range of Defence and law enforcement agencies for this kind of visibility and traceability challenge. The platform can track, trace and manage assets, items and components, down to whatever level of detail is needed – through-life – and deliver real-time visibility on chain-of-custody, usage, process, safety, security and compliance

The technology is compatible with any kind of identification, covert trace, numbering or serialisation standard, and any type of tagging technology. iOS Mobile data capture applications are available for multi-agent data access and capture (soon also for Android and Windows mobile devices).

Furthermore, assetDNA can also handle asset ‘batches’ whereby they can be assigned a unique identifier and the group managed as a single entity – a critical capability for managing assets such as ballistics and ammunition which are difficult to identify and mark at an item-level, but where an agency is still required to track issuance, usage, and chain-of-custody for compliance.

A Success Story the Industry Can Look To

The Australian Border Force (ABF), part of the Home Affairs Portfolio, have made significant inroads to improve the consolidation of this information and create a centralised, electronic record for firearm data. Relegen was appointed after a global tender in 2011 to help the ABF achieve enterprise-wide visibility, real-time tracking, issuance and maintenance of 23,000+ armoury inventory and human resources assets across 78 land and vessel-based armouries throughout Australia. You can read more about our role in this effort here. We have also just completed a significant capability expansion to include the RFID tagging and tracking of more assets, integration with SAP, a new web-based user interface, user-configurable iOS mobile workflow app, and more.

In 2015 the Sydney Morning Herald reported on the amount of missing weapons and controlled items (e.g. munitions, body armour, bullet proof vests, tasers, batons, handcuffs, night vision goggles etc.) from federal government departments. Whilst the AFP and DoD all reported missing and lost items, by comparison the ABF had only one gun missing in the previous three years (which was later accounted for). It is important to note that of these three Federal agencies, the ABF is the only agency using Relegen’s assetDNA as its armoury inventory management system.

Relegen Has Proven Expertise in Deploying Firearm Traceability Solutions

Managing licensing, issuance and chain-of-custody for firearms in a centralised nation-wide database needs to be a top priority. From manufacturer to resale, licensing, ownership, servicing agents, through to disposal, knowing where a weapon is at any given time minimising the risk of it falling into the wrong hands. As we’ve written about in Improving Weapons And Armoury Management With Auto-ID, best-practice weapon accountability is not just the recording of gun make, model, calibre and capacity, owners, or even tracking an individual firearm from ‘cradle to grave’. It’s also about managing all this information in the context of complex workflows and ever-changing compliance requirements. Relegen has proven industry experience in deploying armoury and firearm traceability platforms, remote data capture and mobile workflow solutions. To learn more, please reach out to us via or +61 (0)2 9998 9000.
please reach out to us via or +61 (0)2 9998 9000.