U.S. House Appropriations
Committee Inserts Pro-Gun Language in Spending Bill in Effort to Torpedo
New York City Lawsuit Against Firearms Industry
House Appropriations Committee today adopted an amendment by Representative
Todd Tiahrt (R-KS) to the Commerce, Justice, and State Departments' funding
bill for Fiscal Year 2005 that would block access to basic information
sought by the city of New York in its pending lawsuit against the gun
industry. Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) led opposition to the
"By denying New York
City access to basic information regarding guns traced to crime scenes,
the House Appropriations Committee is doing nothing less than attempting
to fix the outcome of the city's case," charged Kristen Rand, legislative
director for the Violence Policy Center (VPC).
language would prohibit the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms
and Explosives (ATF) from releasing information related to crime gun traces
performed by ATF to anyone outside of a law enforcement agency. The language
explicitly states that crime gun tracing data shall be "immune from legal
process" and "not be subject to subpoena or other discovery in any civil
action in a State or Federal court...." The ban on release of this information
comes after a federal magistrate ruled earlier this year that prohibitive
language inserted into the previous ATF appropriations bill did not block
New York City from obtaining the agency's crime gun tracing data.
While proponents of
the non-disclosure language have contended that allowing access to the
tracing information would endanger law enforcement officers and witnesses,
jeopardize ongoing criminal investigations, and even interfere with homeland
security, in 2002 a federal appeals court ruled that ATF could substantiate
none of these claims when the agency asserted the same arguments as justification
for withholding such data from the city of Chicago. The court stated,
"ATF's arguments that the premature release of this data might interfere
with investigations, threaten the safety of law enforcement officers,
result in the intimidation of witnesses, or inform a criminal that law
enforcement is on his trail are based solely on speculation." The court
characterized allegations that disclosure would interfere with law enforcement
efforts as "only far-fetched hypothetical scenarios," and ruled that ATF
could not withhold the information from the city.
"The House Appropriations
Committee's action is outrageous interference with ongoing civil litigation
under the cynical guise of protecting law enforcement," added Rand.
The Violence Policy Center is a
national non-profit educational foundation that conducts research on violence
in America and works to develop violence-reduction policies and proposals.
The Center examines the role of firearms in America, conducts research
on firearms violence, and explores new ways to decrease firearm-related
death and injury.
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
Violence Policy Center
(202) 822-8200 x109