For Release: Wednesday, June 23, 2004
WASHINGTON, DC – The House Appropriations Committee today adopted an amendment by Representative Todd Tiahrt (R-KS) to the Commerce, Justice, and State Departments’ funding bill for Fiscal Year 2005 that would block access to basic information sought by the city of New York in its pending lawsuit against the gun industry. Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) led opposition to the amendment.
“By denying New York City access to basic information regarding guns traced to crime scenes, the House Appropriations Committee is doing nothing less than attempting to fix the outcome of the city’s case,” charged Kristen Rand, legislative director for the Violence Policy Center (VPC).
The non-disclosure language would prohibit the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from releasing information related to crime gun traces performed by ATF to anyone outside of a law enforcement agency. The language explicitly states that crime gun tracing data shall be “immune from legal process” and “not be subject to subpoena or other discovery in any civil action in a State or Federal court….” The ban on release of this information comes after a federal magistrate ruled earlier this year that prohibitive language inserted into the previous ATF appropriations bill did not block New York City from obtaining the agency’s crime gun tracing data.
While proponents of the non-disclosure language have contended that allowing access to the tracing information would endanger law enforcement officers and witnesses, jeopardize ongoing criminal investigations, and even interfere with homeland security, in 2002 a federal appeals court ruled that ATF could substantiate none of these claims when the agency asserted the same arguments as justification for withholding such data from the city of Chicago. The court stated, “ATF’s arguments that the premature release of this data might interfere with investigations, threaten the safety of law enforcement officers, result in the intimidation of witnesses, or inform a criminal that law enforcement is on his trail are based solely on speculation.” The court characterized allegations that disclosure would interfere with law enforcement efforts as “only far-fetched hypothetical scenarios,” and ruled that ATF could not withhold the information from the city.
“The House Appropriations Committee’s action is outrageous interference with ongoing civil litigation under the cynical guise of protecting law enforcement,” added Rand.