Anti-Gun Groups Demand Access to Gun Trace Data

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

( - Gun control groups are targeting "rogue" gun dealers who "sell guns on street corners to thugs, across kitchen tables to drug dealers, and on playgrounds to violent teens."

In a round of press conferences planned for Wednesday, anti-gun activists said they will attempt to educate the public about "the devastation caused by illegal guns." The gun control groups specifically want access to "trace data" on "crime guns" -- who's sold them, who's owned them, and where they ended up, in other words.

But Second Amendment supporters -- who support efforts to prosecute law-breaking gun dealers -- believe the gun control groups will misuse the gun-trace data for their own purposes.

'Where did the gun come from?

States United to Prevent Gun Violence, a national coalition of state-based gun control groups, is organizing the "Illegal Guns" campaign.

On Wednesday, various groups affiliated with States United were holding press conferences in Boston, suburban Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and several other cities. Some groups plan to distribute cups bearing the logo, "Where did the gun come from?"

"There is no doubt that the illegal gun market is continuously supplied by a small number of reckless gun dealers who aid and abet trafficking into the illegal market," said Sarah Brady of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

The Brady Center is endorsing a bill sponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that would give police and the public access to data on guns that have been traced by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. According to Sarah Brady, public access to such data would "expose" the gun dealers who flood the streets with illegal guns.

Schumer proposed his bill on Tuesday. The New York Times said the bill would give law enforcement agencies access to federal data, including a gun's sales history, which -- according to gun control groups -- trace the route of "crime guns" from the dealer to the shooter.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives does collect gun-tracing data, but it is now prohibited by law from releasing that information to the public.

While gun control groups insist that the data could help identify dealers who are more likely than others to sell guns used in crimes, the National Rifle Association insists the data is unreliable for that purpose -- and would be misused by agenda-driven groups.

According to the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, the BATFE does not "trace guns to crime." According to the NRA-ILA website, "A trace is merely a process by which BATFE contacts the manufacturer or importer of a specific gun, asks to whom the gun was sold, repeating that process down the chain of commerce in an attempt to identify the gun's most recent purchaser."

The NRA-ILA says many of the guns that are traced have not been used in violent crimes at all.

It points to a 1992 Congressional Research Service report, which said the BATF tracing system "was not designed to collect statistics." The report noted that police may request gun traces for any reason - and there is no way to tell whether a traced gun was used in a crime.

But gun control groups insist that the public should have access to the BATFE data -- so people can "know the truth about gun dealers and gun crime."

The Brady Campaign complains that Congress "has quietly placed restrictions on disclosure of crime gun trace data in appropriations legislation funding the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives."

A bill now advancing in the House Judiciary Committee, H.R. 5005, would impose criminal penalties on public disclosure of ATF gun trace data, including the sharing of that data by law enforcement.

Some Second Amendment supporters believe the demand for public access to gun trace data is part of a plan to eventually track all gun buyers, making it easier to confiscate their firearms later.

See Earlier Story:
NYC Mayor's Criticism of Gun Legislation Challenged (31 Mar. 2006)

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