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Release of ATF records to be decided by court

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    NMU         U.S.

    NMU         U.S. SUPREME COURT         Freedom of Information         Dec 10, 2002    

Release of ATF records to be decided by court

  • The issues of gun-owner privacy and freedom of information will soon duel in a Supreme Court case.

After two lower court rulings in the city of Chicago’s favor, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case in which it will decide whether the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms can withhold federal gun-tracking information.

The Supreme Court took up the case at the request of the Bush administration, which said that disclosure of the information which includes details on buyers and sellers of guns would invade the privacy of gun owners.

ATF’s gun-tracing database that tracks the origin and ownership of recovered firearms is used in solving crimes throughout the country.

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

The government claims 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,” according to the Solicitor General’s petition to the court.

Gun control advocates and the city of Chicago disagree.

“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.

The city of Chicago needs 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.

(ATF v. City of Chicago) GS


© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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