Lawmaker wants ATF gun trace data open for use in lawsuits

Connecticut Democrat U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal is seeking to overturn a longstanding ban against using gun trace information in civil proceedings.

Currently the 2003 Tiahrt Amendment blocks the use of the contents of the Firearms Trace System database maintained by the National Trace Center of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives in state civil lawsuits or in efforts to suspend or revoke a gun dealer’s license. Blumenthal, noted for his stand on gun control topics, filed a simple one-page repealer bill last Thursday that seeks to remove the ban.

While his office did not make a statement on the legislation, the bill, S.2594, contains language lifted verbatim from the Senator’s Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act, S.2469, which aims to repeal the current law blocking frivolous lawsuits against the gun industry, filed last month.

“Breaking the industry’s legal shield means that bad actors can be made to pay, and good ones have a fairer playing field,” said Blumenthal at the time.

The new, abbreviated measure would allow gun trace data to be subject to subpoena or other legal discovery, used as evidence, disclosed in any manner and allowed in civil actions in any state or territory in federal or local courts. Should the proposal succeed, it would effectively throw the Trace System database open for a myriad of potential plaintiffs even if the larger bill to repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act fails.

The ATF has been notoriously tight-lipped on its database, scrupulously adhering to the Tiahrt Amendment to the dismay of gun control groups who have sought the data over the years, going so far as to take the agency to federal court over its refusal to disclose even aggregated data.

In response to a suit by Everytown last summer to obtain the “time to crime” element of the trace data collected for years 1998 to 2005 — something the group says the agency withheld when it released documents from a previous request, ATF contended its trace data was exempt from Freedom of Information Act disclosure.

The Tiahrt Amendment has long been a target of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which is now part of Everytown.

However, as noted by gun rights groups, the ATF itself along with the Fraternal Order of Police have repeatedly opposed the release of trace data to outside agencies and the public, citing that it may jeopardize ongoing investigations, could be biased and violate confidentiality laws.

Blumenthal’s measure has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.