Published February 26, 2003
WASHINGTON – Congress already decided in this year's budget bill that gun record database information is private, and the Supreme Court said Wednesday that's good enough for them.
The high court threw out a case scheduled for next week that asked whether the government must release information about gun shops and gun owners whose weapons were used in crimes.
In the omnibus spending bill passed earlier this month for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, Republicans included a provision that prevents the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from spending money to release the data.
The city of Chicago had wanted ATF to release information on the gun industry that it had collected, and argued the information should be made available under the Freedom of Information Act.
Without comment, the justices overturned an appeals court decision in Chicago's favor, saying that the lower court should consider the congressional ban when it decides whether Chicago has the right to the information it contends it needs in order to recover money spent by police, medical units and other municipal agencies that respond to gun violence.
Currently, ATF makes that information available to police when they trace the 200,000 firearm crimes each year. But ATF is not required to hold onto the information eternally and eventually erases the names of the gun maker, seller, buyer and place the gun was used in a crime.
The Bush administration, backed by the National Rifle Association and a police group, had argued that confidential records are needed to safeguard investigations and protect people's privacy.
Gun control advocates argued Congress took the action in its spending bill in order to nullify the need for a court ruling and to protect ATF's actions, which they say prevent the public from gauging gun violence and crime-fighting efforts.
"Giving ATF such special treatment only serves to protect crooked gun dealers and to prevent victims of gun violence from seeking justice," said Michael Barnes, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
The court was to consider whether the FOIA rule, which allows reporters and other outsiders to get unclassified government records, should be expanded to include access to those records. Arguments had been scheduled for Tuesday.
The case is United States Department of the Treasury v. City of Chicago, 02-322.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.