For Release: Thursday, June 28, 2007
WASHINGTON, DC–Today the Senate Appropriations Committee agreed to an amendment sponsored by Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) to the Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill that funds the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) restricting law enforcement and public access to information compiled by ATF about guns traced to crime. Shelby’s amendment adds to restrictions–commonly known as the “Tiahrt Amendment” (named for Kansas Representative Todd Tiahrt)–which block access to basic information about crime guns previously available under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that can help stop illegal gun trafficking and prevent gun violence. The Shelby amendment is even more restrictive than the version of the Tiahrt Amendment that is currently in force. It adds a requirement that law enforcement certify the purpose for which the data will be used. The Department of Justice has said that such a certification requirement could result in criminal prosecution of law enforcement personnel.
The Violence Policy Center (VPC) is urging Congress to repeal the Tiahrt Amendment. Many law enforcement organizations oppose the provision, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
“By denying state and local officials and law enforcement access to basic information regarding guns traced to crime scenes, the Appropriations Committee is handcuffing police and making it virtually impossible for mayors who are trying to crack down on illegal gun trafficking to identify the sources of crime guns used in their communities,” charged Kristen Rand, legislative director for the Violence Policy Center.
Some form of the prohibition has been in place since fiscal year 2004. [For more information on the negative effects of this language on law enforcement, please see this page.] Before the release of such information was banned, the tracing data had been publicly available and was routinely used by city officials and law enforcement agencies to determine the sources of illegally trafficked firearms and to identify corrupt gun dealers and the types of guns most often traced to crime.
Adds Rand, “Keeping crime gun trace data secret puts the whims of the gun lobby ahead of the needs of local officials and law enforcement who are desperate for information that will help them fight illegal gun trafficking.”
Proponents of keeping crime gun trace data secret contend that allowing access to the tracing information would endanger law enforcement officers and witnesses while jeopardizing ongoing criminal investigations. However, prior to implementation of the “Tiahrt Amendment” the information was routinely released under the Freedom of Information Act. Specific exemptions to the FOIA allowed ATF to withhold any information that could interfere with law enforcement investigations. The FOIA explicitly protects from disclosure any information that could reasonably be expected to interfere with law enforcement operations. There is no evidence that release of the information has ever resulted in any harm to law enforcement or police investigations.