BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Baltimore is seeing some of the worst violence in the city's history and this year and has now reached the second-highest murder rate ever through April.
The mayor has pleaded for federal help, and on Tuesday, the ATF unveiled a new mobile lab to trace guns.
When someone fires a gun, the casings provide unique markings, much like fingerprints. Now, police will be able to quickly trace those casings to other murders, and build stronger cases.
WJZ investigations have exposed a surge in illegal guns fueling murders in Baltimore City. Killings are out-of-control, at the highest pace in Baltimore's history this early in the year.
City leaders are desperate to stop the bloodshed. The ATF is now bringing in a mobile crime lab to assist. It's the first-of-its-kind that will help connect a gun to its shooter.
"Before they get out on bail, we've got that lead that we can follow and then hold them for further investigation," says Baltimore ATF Agent-in-Charge Daniel Board.
This is the first time it's been used anywhere in the country.
Bringing in weapons on the black market and selling them to gang members is a lucrative criminal enterprise in Baltimore. But now, instead of days or weeks, police will be able to trace them within hours.
"That's a game changer. It connects ballistic evidence with known offenders," says Baltimore City Police commissioner Kevin Davis.
"It's the first time it's been in a moving apparatus," says ATF Firearms Division Chief James Ferguson.
He shows WJZ how they test-fire weapons found at crime scenes.
"Once we take a recovered firearm, we're able to stick it into the snail trap, discharge the firearm, whereby we can get an exemplar from this particular firearm."
Casings are analyzed, and the results could connect one murder to others.
"It tells you definitively, what gun has been tied to what homicide," says Baltimore ATF Agent Board.
The van will only be used on a limited basis now through the summer, but with powerful weapons common to war zones on city streets, police hope they can build stronger cases against those using them to kill.
"It gives us a huge advantage over this criminal element right now, that's way too violent and way too emboldened," says Commissioner Davis.
WJZ has learned that the ATF has added 11 agents in recent months in Baltimore.
So far this year, there has already been 108 murders in Baltimore.
The mayor said she's working with the congressional delegation and new deputy U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein to secure more assistance, but said nothing about the FBI help she asked for last week.
The ATF's ballistics network gets more than 20,000 weapons and casings added to it every month from police agencies nationwide.
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