Guns

Firearms Tracing Data is not Public Information

By Bill Brassard | NSSF Aiming for Accuracy

There are good reasons for preventing firearm tracing data from becoming
public information. Doing so protects the lives of law enforcement officers and
also the integrity of undercover operations that may have been in place for
weeks or even months. Restricting access also prevents the misuse of the data to
bring nuisance lawsuits, as New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg did when he
launched his own private sting operation against out-of-state firearms retailers
and interfered with up to 18 federal investigations for which he was chastised
in a letter from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

For these reasons and others, legislation called the Tiahrt Amendment rightly
protects gun ownership information from being released to the public, while at
the same time allowing law enforcement to access and share the data for their
investigations.

Introduced by Congressman Todd Tiahrt (R-KS) in 2003, the legislation has
been renewed every year since then and has the support of the Fraternal Order of
Police. Even New York's police commissioner, Ray Kelly, opposed the public
release of such sensitive information, saying in a 2002 letter to Attorney
General John Ashcroft, "The release of trace information . . . seriously
jeopardizes not only . . . investigations, but also the lives of law enforcement
officers, informants, witnesses, and others."

(When discussing tracing, it's important to note that a traced firearm is not
an indicator of wrongdoing on the part of either the retailer who sold the
firearm or the individual who legally purchased the gun, even though some
inaccurately leap to that conclusion, as did Mr. Bloomberg in testimony before
Congress.)

Despite all these reasons, New York's anti-gun senator Charles Schumer
recently called for the repeal of the Tiahrt Amendment so that trace
data can be made public.

At the same time, Mr. Schumer called on the Obama Administration to extend
the time period for storing an individual's firearm purchasing records.
Currently, such records of law-abiding gun owners must be destroyed within 24
hours, but Mr. Schumer would like the purchasing records of gun owners to be
retained for up to 90 days. With each gun owner having to pass a federal
background check and retailers required to keep records signed by the purchaser
for up to 20 years, law enforcement already has all the information it needs to
trace firearms sales to the first retail purchaser, so there is no need for
holding onto these records longer than current law provides.

What the 90-day holding period does do is create a federal registry of
firearms purchasers, something Congress has clearly forbidden.