Baltimore Mayor Sues ATF for Gun Trace Data
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott is suing the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for data about the origin of guns used in city crimes. The ATF “trace data” that the city is seeking shows where a gun police recovered was manufactured to where it was sold at retail. Everytown for Gun Safety, a national nonprofit advocating for gun control, is providing legal assistance for the lawsuit. However, the data is regulated by a federal law, known as the Tiahrt Amendment, which only allows it to be shared for law enforcement purposes.
Baltimore has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation, but it has been plagued with the proliferation of firearms. This has prompted city officials to take measures to address the issue.
In September, Baltimore officials filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the data but were rejected. The lawsuit was then filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., seeking a judge’s order to compel the ATF to approve the city’s data request.
The riders attached to Department of Justice (DOJ) appropriations bills for more than two decades have protected gun dealers from civil litigation. These riders, known as the Tiahrt Amendment, have shielded information that used to be public. As such, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott is suing the ATF to make the data available for their use to investigate the sources of illegal guns in their communities.
The Tiahrt Amendment
The Tiahrt Amendment is federal law that regulates the sharing of gun trace data. It only allows trace data to be shared for law enforcement purposes, which means it can only be accessed by law enforcement agencies. This, in turn, makes it difficult for city officials to access the data they need to address gun proliferation in their communities.
Baltimore Police Department already possesses the data, but it cannot be shared with the mayor or other non-law enforcement officials under the Tiahrt Amendment. Mayor Brandon Scott’s lawsuit seeks to have a judge order the ATF to approve the city’s data request.
Why Gun Trace Data Matters
The gun data the mayor seeks can help address the source of illegal guns in Baltimore. With the full data, city officials could identify the 10 top sources of guns used in crimes in Baltimore from 2018 to 2022. The data can also lend itself to other enforcement measures, namely lawsuits against gun stores or retailers who are most commonly linked to crime guns with a high frequency.
It’s essential to have this information because, according to 1995 study, based on what was then publicly available ATF trace data, it was found that 1% of the nation’s gun dealers’ original sellers of more than half of guns recovered at crime scenes. Therefore, getting a more granular view of stores supplying the weaponry used in the city could lead to legal action.
The Ghost Guns Lawsuit
Mayor Brandon Scott’s administration filed a different lawsuit in June 2022 to address the flow of “ghost guns,” or firearms without serial numbers. Ghost guns cannot be traced by the ATF and are making up an increasing number of firearms Baltimore Police recover. The lawsuit is against Polymer 80, Inc., one of the largest suppliers of 3D printed firearm parts and kits, which are sold online without a background check.
Weapons derived from Polymer80 parts make up more than 90% of the ghost guns seized in the city, according to police. The lawsuit argues that the business has created a “public nuisance” in Baltimore.
Mayor Brandon Scott is waging the good fight for the safety of Baltimore residents by seeking data that can help fight the proliferation of firearms in the city. The ATF needs to act in good faith and comply with the judge’s order to approve the city’s data request, which they should have done years ago.
The gun trace data will allow city officials to get a more accurate view of the sources of illegal guns in their communities, enabling them to take effective measures to address the issue. It’s time for the Tiahrt Amendment to be revisited, so local governments have access to data that can protect their residents.