For Release: Thursday, July 13, 2006
WASHINGTON, DC–Today the Senate Appropriations Committee rejected an amendment to the fiscal year 2007 Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations legislation that would have allowed state and local governments as well as law enforcement agencies access to crime gun trace data crucial in the effort to stop illegal gun trafficking. The amendment, offered by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), would have allowed state and local governments and law enforcement agencies access to information in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) crime gun trace database for the purpose of enforcing federal, state, and local laws and to help prevent and detect violations of law.
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 city mayors who are trying to crack down on illegal gun trafficking to identify the sources of crime guns used in their cities, charged Kristen Rand, legislative director for the Violence Policy Center (VPC).
Language restricting disclosure of crime gun trace data was inserted in the House’s version of the bill (H.R. 5672). Some form of the prohibition has been in place since fiscal year 2004. 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.
“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,” added Rand.
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, in 2002 a federal appeals court ruled that none of these claims could be substantiated when they were asserted as justification for withholding such data from release under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) before the appropriations riders were put in place. The court stated: “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 the information could not be withheld.