Baltimore sues ATF over access to gun data


The city of Baltimore is suing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for blocking access to data on guns used in crimes, information it said was essential to combating gun violence and identifying sellers. who flood the city with weapons.

In a lawsuit filed Monday, city attorneys argued that the ATF had adopted too narrow an interpretation of legislation enacted in 2003 by congressional Republicans at the behest of the National Rifle Association. The law blocked public access to gun tracing data collected by the federal government on guns recovered at crime scenes across the country.

The so-called Tiahrt Amendment, named for its sponsor, former Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., prevents the use of federal funds to release information about traces recorded in the federal firearms trace database, which amounts to a blockage of public disclosure.

An ATF spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Lawyers in the office are skeptical that legal challenges to the Tiahrt Amendment will be successful in the appeals court, according to officials with knowledge of the situation.

Local police departments have access to tracking information, but are often reluctant to share it with local governments. The ATF, despite President Biden's promise to improve access to firearms data, has steadfastly refused to publicly release information that could identify the manufacturers, gun sellers, and federally licensed dealers most likely to from selling to criminals or straw buyers.

“We really need all the data,” said Mayor Brandon M. Scott, who added that the information was particularly critical to identifying gun retailers outside the city, in adjacent Baltimore County and elsewhere, whose weapons They often end up being used to commit crimes in Baltimore.

“By limiting our ability to implement effective public safety strategies, the Tiahrt Amendment introduced by NRA-backed politicians and Congress is endangering the lives of residents not only here in the city of Baltimore, but across the United States. United States of America,” Mr. Scott told reporters Tuesday in announcing the lawsuit.

In the filing, the city highlighted three crimes where access to tracking data was necessary: ​​the murder of 16-year-old Izaiah Carter, shot to death in March near her school in East Baltimore; the death of Maya Morton, 23, who was caught in the crossfire of a shooting while she was driving with her two young children in January; and a shooting at Carver Vocational and Technical High School in October that seriously injured two teenagers.

In 2020, President Biden campaigned on a promise to repeal the Tiahrt Amendment. But those efforts have failed, and the effort to insert a repeal into the bipartisan gun bill passed in 2022 was unsuccessful.

Gun rights organizations and gun manufacturers have lobbied hard to block legislative attempts to reverse the amendment, arguing that the effort is a political stunt to “name and shame” federally licensed law-abiding dealers whose guns They inevitably end up in the wrong hands.

But tracking data, in the rare cases where it has been made public, has illuminated the avenues through which criminals obtain legally manufactured and legally sold firearms.

From 2014 to 2020, six small retailers in South and Northeast Philadelphia sold more than 11,000 guns that were later recovered in criminal investigations or confiscated from owners who had obtained them illegally, according to an examination of firearms tracking data from Pennsylvania conducted by the Brady gun control group. , the most comprehensive analysis of its kind in decades.

The report's findings confirmed what law enforcement officials have long known. A small percentage of gun stores (1.2 percent of the state's licensed dealers, according to Brady) accounted for 57 percent of the firearms that ended up in the hands of criminals through illegal resale or direct purchases by part of straw buyers who delivered them to people who had been prohibited from accessing them. possess weapons.

A similar dynamic exists in cities like Baltimore and Chicago, which have no legal gun dealers in their jurisdictions. Purchasing activity migrates to adjacent areas or nearby states where firearms can be easily trafficked in car trunks.

Gun violence in Baltimore has declined slightly over the past two years, falling below 300 homicides in 2023 for the first time in a decade. But it remains one of the most dangerous cities in the country, and many of the weapons used to commit crimes there are transported from other localities with looser gun laws, made easier by its central location on the I-95 corridor. .

City officials estimate that 60 to 70 percent of firearms used in crimes originated outside Maryland's borders between 2017 and 2021.

The purpose of the lawsuit is to focus on “trends in how firearms are entering communities,” said Alla Lefkowitz, litigation director at Everytown, who helped draft the complaint.

“Are one or two gun stores responsible for the majority of gun crime in a city, or does it come from a more disparate source?” she asked. “Do most firearms come from in-state or out-of-state? What are the most popular criminal weapons? This database is a very powerful tool.”

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