I don't ever remember my jaw dropping like it did when I learned about America's gun-tracing process.

It wasn't even a topic I was all that interested in, to be honest. Gun policy? Sure. Gun tracing? Meh.

But the headline of this 2016 GQ article — "Inside the Federal Bureau of Way Too Many Guns" — caught my eye, so I dove in. All I can say is "Holy sh**." I'm not sure if I'm more shocked, appalled, or mesmerized, but I definitely feel some big feelings.


Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images.

I suppose I always assumed there had to be a few limitations to what the government could do about guns. But I didn't realize how far those limits reached — or how absurd those limitations would make the entire gun tracing operation appear.

Frankly, if the following wild facts don't boggle your mind, I'm not sure how we exist on the same planet.

1. Let's start with this: Gun records aren't kept on a computer database. They aren't allowed to be.

To keep track of guns and gun sales, folks at the National Tracing Center in West Virginia — an agency of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) — use a combination of millions of pieces of paper and microfilm. They have no searchable, centralized computer database of gun data — not by serial number, not by owner registration, not by sales records — nothing of the sort.

As Charlie Houser, the genuinely fascinating ATF agent who runs the National Tracing Center told GQ, "We ain't got a registration system. Ain't nobody registering no damn guns."

Charlie Houser heads up the National Tracing Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Screenshot via MEL Films.

So the 49 ATF agents who work at the tracing center have to manually flip through millions — literally millions — of pieces of paper and microfilm to perform their traces.

Paper and microfilm. For information that could easily be kept and quickly searched on a computer database. For information that really shouldn't need shipping container after shipping container full of boxes to maintain.

WTF, America.

2. We are the among the most technologically advanced countries in the world, yet our gun tracing system is straight out of 1984.

I mean the actual year 1984, though the novel might apply, too.

To give you a taste of what I'm talking about, check out this 10-minute short film, "Guns Found Here":

Just the first 10 seconds of that video speaks volumes. Click click click click. Flip flip flip flip. The latter? It's the sound of just a few of the 67 million pieces of paper in the officeand the 2 million more arriving every month.

Each paper means at least one gun, by the way. "Bizarrely antiquated" is one phrase that comes to mind. "Maddeningly inefficient" is another.

I mean, this is the 21st century, right? We haven't slipped into some kind of time warp, have we?

You really have to give it to Houser and his team, though. These dedicated folks have somehow pieced together a system that works as well as it possibly could despite the considerable limitations placed upon them.

But seriously, there is no way this is sustainable, physically or logistically.

3. The absurdity of our gun tracing system highlights our country's unique relationship with guns.

Much of the world is bemused and bewildered by America's relationship with guns. Heck, I was born and raised here, and I still don't get it myself.

Yes, we have the Second Amendment. But we also have the reality that the U.S. is a complete and total outlier when it comes to gun violence among developed nations. We have enough guns to arm every man, woman, and child (or at least we think we do — nobody knows for sure because we can't track them). Our firearm laws are all over the place, varying widely from state to state and city to city. And while we joke about gun worshippers, we have people literally using guns in worship.

But the weirdest thing to me about America and guns is the paranoia about the government that handcuffs our ability to effectively study the issue of gun violence.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Some Americans fear a centralized gun database because a tyrannical government could theoretically use it to confiscate people's weapons. At 5:45 in the video above, you hear a gentleman from GunGuyTV say, "There is no compelling reason for any government to register privately owned firearms unless they're planning to take them away."

If you say so, GunGuy. But in the real world, we need data to help us understand problems and find solutions for them.

Cars are a good example. I recently did some research on gun deaths vs. car deaths and was easily able to find exact numbers for how many cars there are, how many drivers are licensed, and all the various data one would need to get an accurate picture of car usage, accidents, etc. And we've used this data to make driving safer — in fact, we've decreased our car accident fatality rate by half since the early 1980s.

With guns, the picture looks much different. The numbers of guns and gun owners are all estimated based on polls and sales reports. We have no way to know what kinds of guns we have, who's carrying them, where they are, how many there are — nada. Reliable, trackable data just isn't there.

And even if it were, it would apparently be scanned into microfilm or piled up in shipping containers waiting to be flipped through by hand — so many papers that the floor might collapse.

[rebelmouse-image 19533483 dam="1" original_size="500x282" caption="GIF via "Stranger Things"/Netflix." expand=1]GIF via "Stranger Things"/Netflix.

It blows my mind that more people aren't bothered by this — including Houser and others who work at the Tracing Center.

Houser appears to be resigned to the unusual reality of his life's work. And from the descriptions of the other workers in the GQ article, it seems his co-workers simply take pride in their jobs and aren't fazed by the fact that it could be made so much simpler.

But what about the rest of America? One gun = one piece of paper. Maybe people just don't know that this is how gun data works in America. I know I had a lot of assumptions before delving deep into the subject.

I mean, why would one think there wouldn't be a computer database used to trace guns? I'd assume that law enforcement could just type in a serial number, pull up a gun record in the blink of an eye, and voila! We know whose gun it is. Seems logical in the age where people carry computers around in their pockets, right?

But nope. Not even close. Paper and microfilm. Click click click. Flip flip flip flip.

Congress discussed firearm data keeping after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Isn't it time we brought gun-related data into the 21st century? Shouldn't we demand common sense in at least this one area from our lawmakers?

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Freya from Maya Higa's YouTube video.

Ever wonder what an ideal date for a lemur would be? Or a lizard’s favorite Disney princess?

Thanks to one YouTube poster with a passion for animals and an endearing sense of humor, all questions shall be answered. Well, maybe not all questions. But at the very least, you’ll have eight minutes of insanely cute footage.

In a series titled “Tiny Mic Interviews,” Maya Higa approaches little beasties with a microphone so small she has to hold it with just her thumb and forefinger. And yes, 99% of the animals try to eat it.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
True

The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Cellist Cremaine Booker's performance of Faure's "Pavane" is as impressive as it is beautiful.

Music might be the closest thing the world has to real magic. Music has the ability to transform any atmosphere in seconds, simply with the sounds of a few notes. It can be simple—one instrument playing single notes like raindrops—or a complex symphony of melodies and harmonies, swirling and crashing like waves from dozens of instruments. Certain rhythms can make us spontaneously dance and certain chord progressions can make us cry.

Music is an art, a science, a language and a decidedly human endeavor. People have made music throughout history, in every culture on every continent. Over time, people have perfected the crafting of instruments and passed along the knowledge of how to play them, so every time we see someone playing music, we're seeing the history of humanity culminated in their craft. It's truly an amazing thing.

The pandemic threw a wrench into seeing live musicians for a good chunk of time, and even now, live performances are limited. Thankfully, we have technology that makes it easier for musicians to collaborate and perform with one another virtually—and also makes it easier for people to create "group" performances all by themselves.

Keep Reading Show less

A round-up of delights from around the internet this week.

Hey all!

Welcome to Upworthy's weekly roundup of delights from around the internet. This week's list features a little of everything—gorgeous music, cute kids, adorable animals, hope for the planet and a brand new video message from the late and great Betty White.

That's right, Betty White left us a message of gratitude shortly before her passing. It's brief, but how lovely to see and hear her speak to her millions of fans one last time. Few celebrities are as universally beloved as Betty White was, and though we knew she couldn't live forever, it would have been fun to see her celebrate her 100th birthday. Now, at least, we get to experience her joy and warmth with a few last words.

Keep Reading Show less