WASHINGTON D.C. (WROC) — Rep. Joe Morelle (D-25), Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter, and others spoke during a congressional subcommittee hearing Wednesday morning in Washington D.C.

The hearing was focused on “tools to combat gun trafficking and reduce gun violence in our communities.”

According to officials from Rep. Morelle’s office before the hearing began, the goal of the day was to “explore actions that Congress can take to better combat gun trafficking and ensure that illegal guns do not make their way onto the streets of our communities.”

“Our nation is reeling from recent series of senseless mass shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, Tulsa, and too many neighborhoods across the country,” Rep. Morelle said in his opening remarks at the hearing. “There have been more than 200 mass shootings already in 2022, which is more shootings than there have been days of the year.”

Witnesses discussed the importance of ensuring the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has the necessary tools to track and police gun trafficking, as well as critical funding streams for gun violence prevention researched.

The hearing also explored elements of H.R. 4423, the Gun Theft Prevention Act, which is sponsored by Rep. Morelle and looks to prevent gun theft from licensed gun dealers.

The witnesses were:

  • Sherriff Baxter, who has spent a total of 35 years in law enforcement, four of which were as the Chief of Greece Police Department. He has spent 22 years thus far with the Rochester Police Department. Baxter has also spent three in the military as a Military Police Officer, and remained in the military for 19 more years through the Army reserve.
  • Dr. Lois Lee, Senior Associate in Pediatrics in the Division of Emergency Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital and Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine at Harvard Medical School. She focuses on health disparities, health policies, and pediatric emergency medicine. She has published work on injury prevention, including injuries related to firearms.
  • Bill Napier, who has over 30 years of experience in retail loss prevention. He has been in leadership roles including site security manager, corporate manager, and director. He has also spent 20 years in municipal law enforcement, and has been in the outdoor retail arena for 18 years, with experience in ATF compliance.

During his remarks, Rep. Morelle cited a harrowing fact from the New England Journal of Medicine: firearm deaths have now replaced motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death for American children.

“Which I’ll admit is a fact I continue to repeat and […] have a hard time processing,” he said.

Speaking to News 8 Thursday before traveling to Washington, the sheriff said he hoped to talk about responsible commercial firearms management, positive gun ownership.

“I’m neutral, you know the fact is, I have input,” Baxter said. “I hope I get asked a lot of questions because I have experience. I know at the end-user level, what we need in law enforcement is tools. I have friends that are firearms dealers and firearms store owners, so I also need to keep them from feeling like the bad guys in this story. So you could do both and I think that’s where I always try to hit it, right down the middle of the fairway. It’s not, I’m left or right, it’s I’m law enforcement, I have input, and so I’m glad they’re looking for input from law enforcement.”

Sheriff Baxter said he hoped to also offer input to the subcommittee regarding gaps in current laws that hinder the ability of law enforcement to take action to reduce the number of guns entering the illegal market.

During the hearing, Baxter advocated for more ATF agents, funding, and freedom to support responsible firearm management. He also argued for education for licensed gun owners and salespeople, stating that the goal of law enforcement should be to incentivize responsible gun ownership, not criminalize the act of owning a gun.

Baxter also supported more stringent records and monitoring of the sale and transportation of firearms, and cited the need for a comprehensive tracking tool that would allow law enforcement to know if a specific gun has been reported stolen. Currently, no such tool exists in Monroe County, making it difficult to know and prove if a gun has been stolen or not.

“The fact is that I can go online right now and check my Amazon package, and find out exactly where it is in shipment, but I cannot answer a simple question in Monroe County of: a gun was just recovered, was it stolen?” Baxter said in the hearing. “Was it stolen in Georgia, was it reported lost in South Carolina, was it reported stolen next door? The simplistic comprehensive database that we’re looking for is something that we’re lacking, seriously lacking in Monroe County.”