Gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety has sued the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for withholding public records, according to a complaint filed in a New York federal court on July 23.
The ATF failed to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request for aggregate trace data that includes the “time to crime” for firearms picked up at crime scenes in each state for years 1998 to 2005, the lawsuit says.
“Failure to release records containing information vital to a public debate — records that ATF is statutorily obligated to provide upon request — has left Everytown no choice but to file this lawsuit,” the lawsuit says.
The ATF is the only federal law enforcement agency tasked with tracing firearms recovered from crime scenes, the lawsuit says. To collect the data, the agency uses the gun’s serial number and other descriptive details to trace it back to the original seller and buyer.
Currently, the ATF hosts trace data — which includes total number of guns recovered, where it sold and recovered, time to crime, etc — by state on its website dating back to 2006.
Although the ATF released trace data for the dates Everytown requested, the agency excluded the “time to crime” element and has either dodged or ignored appeals and follow-up requests since 2013, the lawsuit says.
“There is a significant public interest in shedding light on the patterns of illegal gun trafficking, and the aggregate data requested is among the most valuable sources of information about firearms taken from unlawful possessors or recovered from crime scenes,” the lawsuit says about why the data should be readily available.
“Understanding the circumstances under which illegal firearms have been transferred from person-to-person — and ultimately to crime scenes — is critical for learning how to better keep guns out of dangerous hands,” the lawsuit continues.
Everytown has not asked for damages, but instead asked for the records and the court to waive court costs. The ATF has 60 days to respond to the complaint.