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Treasury budget would close gun databases before Supreme Court rule

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information    

Treasury budget would close gun databases before Supreme Court rule

  • A provision in a spending bill would cut off public access to information that reporters have used to trace ownership of illegal guns, information that now is denied by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for law enforcement and “privacy” reasons. A case on the issue is already before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Feb. 14, 2003 — The final $397.4 billion budget for Department of the Treasury spending includes a tiny but volatile prohibition against the disclosure of gun ownership data held by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that would show who owned weapons that are used in crimes.

That data has been ordered disclosed to the city of Chicago by the U.S. Court of Appeals there (7th Cir.) in a case that the government appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and is scheduled for oral argument March 4. Chicago city officials say they need the information to track sales of guns that were used in crimes. The federal government insists that release of the information would interfere with law enforcement investigations and, by identifying them, “intrude upon the privacy” of the gun sellers and owners.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Society of Professional Journalists have filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the high court pointing out that journalists have used this information in the past to show how illegal guns end up in the hands of criminals, and that the public has a strong interest in keeping these databases open.

According to the Associated Press, Rep. George Nethercutt (R-Wash.) wrote the amendment to the spending bill because of the circuit court decision in Chicago.

The bill provides that no funds appropriated will be available to give out records under the Freedom of Information Act that are collected in connection with arson or explosives incidents or tracing of fire-arms.

The section does provide that the records will “continue to be disclosed to the extent that they have been disclosed under the FOI Act prior to passage of the bill.

(H.J. Res. 2, Sec. 644) RD

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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