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News and notes on guns in America

The Trace’s Collaborative Investigation of Stolen Guns Wins Reporting Prize

The Trace’s yearlong investigation into the violent consequences of rising gun theft has earned a reporting award from the Deadline Club.

“The Trace’s topnotch technique paired sophisticated data analysis with dogged shoe-leather reporting to circumvent governmental opacity and link the alarming statistics to real-life stories,” wrote the contest judges. “The result: An exceptional package that covers a largely unknown, under-reported and real danger that demands our attention.”

The Deadline Club is the New York City chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Its annual journalism contest honors the best work by New York-based news organizations.

Joining The Trace as finalists in the category of Reporting by Independent Digital Media were fellow nonprofit news organizations The Intercept and InsideClimate News. Winners were announced on May 21.

The Trace’s Brian Freskos led the exhaustive reporting that powered the Missing Pieces project. Trace visual journalist Daniel Nass provided data analysis and visualizations, and contributor Max Siegelbaum added further reporting.

Little research exists on gun theft and its role in providing the tools for violent crimes, and the federal government has not made public its data on gun theft. To get around those obstacles, Freskos and his collaborators collected more 800,000 law enforcement records from more than one thousand state and local agencies.

After standardizing the data, they looked for matches between guns reported stolen and  guns later recovered at crime scenes. Their reporting identified at least 1,500 stolen firearms used in violent crimes, including murders, sexual assaults, and armed robberies. After securing previously unpublished figures from the Federal Bureau Investigation, the investigation pinpointed a worsening problem: the number of guns reported stolen has risen every year for at least the past decade.

Crucial to the project was the collaboration of 13 local NBC stations, which produced in-depth segments on the effects of rising gun theft in their communities. To further facilitate local reporting and follow-up research, The Trace also made public the massive collection of data it gathered, leading to subsequent articles by several more local outlets.

Missing Pieces has prompted several major police departments to warn residents of the public safety risk posed by lax gun storage. Editorial boards in cities with high rates of gun violence, as well as online publications serving gun owners, published warnings to their readers about the dangers of unsecured weapons. In April, a top gun violence scholar, citing the investigation, issued a call for more research on the threat of stolen firearms.

The Deadline Club award comes as The Trace expands its collaborative model to new audiences and mediums.

On May 22, we released the first two episodes of Aftermath, a podcast on shooting survivors co-reported by The Trace’s Elizabeth Van Brocklin and the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Amber Hunt. In a separate partnership that debuted this month, Van Brocklin worked with Cosmopolitan and Women’s Health to explore the long-term psychological  trauma of gun violence.

The Trace is always eager to hear from journalists interested in partnering with our nonprofit newsroom. Got an idea for a project? Please drop a note to Senior Editor Akoto Ofori-Atta at [email protected].