In March, we filed a request for gun records under the Freedom of Information Act. We’re trying to understand how often guns that police sell to the public end up being used in crimes.
Two months later, Alain Stephens, a Reveal Investigative Fellow, still hadn’t heard anything. He wrote an email to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to check on its status. The response: Due to an administrative error, the request hadn’t been opened.
Now, eight months after the initial filing, we’re still waiting for a response from the ATF and Department of Justice. We’ve grown tired of waiting, and this week, we filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department for the records.
The ATF keeps a vast archive of information on the origin of guns used in crimes, known as gun trace data. The federal government already puts considerable restrictions on the release of this information. In 2008, Congress passed the Tiahrt Amendment, blocking the ATF from releasing information about guns used in crimes to the public. Previously, the information had been released to the public and used by the media to show the origin of crime guns.
We’re not even trying to get that information. The law does allow the “release of aggregate statistical data on illegal gun trafficking or statistical information on the U.S. firearms industry.” It also does not forbid the disclosure of information about the ATF’s policies and procedures.
We’re requesting information about how the ATF tracks former law enforcement weapons, how it communicates with law enforcement agencies when a weapon does turn up in a crime and how often these weapons come up in traces.
We hope to get the information in time to include in a Reveal show on the topic that’s planned for December. Regardless, we’ll keep fighting. It’s a core part of our mission, as investigative journalists, to relentlessly seek the release of important government information to the public.