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High court cancels hearing on gun records case.

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    NMU         U.S. SUPREME COURT         Freedom of Information    

High court cancels hearing on gun records case.

  • In light of an appropriations bill preventing the ATF from spending money to release gun-tracing information, the Supreme Court remanded the case to the court of appeals for further examination.

Feb. 26, 2003 — The U.S. Supreme Court said today that it would not hear whether the government can keep secret a gun sales database because Congress may already have settled the issue by banning ATF from spending money to release the data, according to an Associated Press report.

The justices were scheduled to hear arguments March 4 as to whether the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms should be forced to release a database information that includes the names of gun shops and gun owners whose weapons were eventually traced by law enforcement. All briefs had already been filed in the case.

But a U.S. House of Representatives provision inserted into this year’s spending package precludes the ATF from spending any money to release the gun tracing information. Rep. George Nethercutt (R-Wash.) introduced the provision as an amendment to the 2003 Consolidated Appropriations Resolution, which was signed by the President on Feb. 20. The House report on the bill said releasing the data “would not only pose a risk to law enforcement and homeland security, but also to the privacy of innocent citizens.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago (7th Cir.) must reconsider the case, according to the Supreme Court.

The government claimed in its briefs before the high court that releasing gun-tracing information would “significantly intrude upon the privacy of hundreds of thousands of individuals — including firearms purchasers, potential witnesses to crime and others — without meaningfully assisting the public to evaluate the conduct of the federal government.”

The city of Chicago needed the ATF data to prove its claim in a lawsuit against gun manufacturers who it claims flooded the market around Chicago with guns, which made it easier for criminals in the city to acquire them. At issue is access to information on about 200,000 firearm traces made each year by police.

The ATF, in its petition to the Supreme Court, argued that under the Freedom of Information Act, releasing the gun tracing database would infringe upon the privacy rights of gun buyers and would hinder ongoing investigations by law enforcement.

Gun control advocates and the city of Chicago disagreed.

“There is simply no reasonable expectation of privacy involved in the purchase of firearms. And the recovery of a firearm by authorities in the course of a criminal investigation is even less private,” Chicago Deputy Corporation Counsel Larry Rosenthal told the U.S. Supreme Court in the city’s brief.

(Department of the Treasury v. City of Chicago) GS

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