Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and Everytown Law Announce Lawsuit Against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to Obtain Critical Crime Gun Data

Crest of the City of Baltimore

Brandon M. Scott
Mayor,
Baltimore City
250 City Hall - Baltimore Maryland 21202
(410) 396-3835 - Fax: (410) 576-9425

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

The Lawsuit Challenges the Applicability of the Tiahrt Rider, an NRA-Backed Appropriations Rider That Has Kept Crime Gun Data Hidden From the Public for Almost 20 Years

BALTIMORE, MD (Tuesday, December 19, 2023) – Today, Mayor Brandon M. Scott, alongside Everytown Law and the law firm Kramer Levin, announced the filing of a federal lawsuit against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to obtain data about the sources of crime guns recovered in the City. The lawsuit, filed pursuant to the federal Freedom of Information Act, comes on the heels of ATF’s improper denial of Baltimore’s request for this data. The lawsuit challenges an overly expansive application of the Tiahrt Rider, an NRA-backed federal appropriations rider which has long kept hidden the identities of gun stores that are the top contributors to gun crime in American cities. This is the first such lawsuit by a city in almost twenty years.

“Baltimore is committed to using data-driven policies to fight the epidemic of gun violence in our city – but in order to do that, we actually need all the data,” said Mayor Brandon M. Scott, Mayor of Baltimore and Co-Chair of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. “I’ve repeatedly made clear my commitment to holding everyone who has a hand in facilitating violence in our city accountable – from those who pull the trigger to those who supply the weapons. There is no reason why the identities of gun stores that are the top contributors to gun violence in Baltimore should be kept hidden from the public and from city officials.  Already our public-health-informed, data-driven approach has Baltimore on track to maintain a 20 percent reduction in homicides year-over-year and fewer than 300 homicides for the first time in 9 years. We want to build on that success by continuing to target the flow of illegal guns into our city, and this rider is an obstacle to making our city safer.”

“For the first time in 9 years, our city’s homicide rate has fallen below 300, a powerful testament to the comprehensive work being done by Mayor Scott’s administration to combat gun violence in our city,” said Ebony Thompson, Acting City Solicitor with the Baltimore City Department of Law. “The City’s data-driven initiatives to promote public safety are working, but we will continue to be limited in our response efforts for as long as we are barred from accessing critical gun crime data from the ATF. By filing this suit, we hope that we will get one step closer to securing the information needed to most effectively address Baltimore’s gun violence crisis.”

“Cities must be equipped with the best information available to craft targeted, effective solutions to the gun violence plaguing their communities,” said Alla Lefkowitz, Senior Director of Affirmative Litigation at Everytown Law. “But for almost twenty years, the Tiahrt Rider has been wrongly applied to prevent city leaders from accessing critical crime gun data for their communities. This needs to end. The epidemic of gun violence is too serious to allow the top sources of crime guns to remain hidden in the shadows.”

A critical tool in the fight to end gun violence, gun crime data, also referred to as “trace data,” provides recipients with the ability to analyze gun crime trends by reviewing the flow of a recovered gun from its manufacturer to distributor to retail sale. Trace data can provide indispensable insight for local and state officials as they look to craft and implement targeted solutions to reduce the proliferation of gun violence. However, ATF, which maintains the database that holds this critical data, does not share much of this information with local and state officials due to an NRA-backed appropriations rider, also known as the Tiahrt Rider, first passed in 2003 and most recently enacted in 2012.

ATF has interpreted the 2012 Tiahrt Rider over-broadly to prevent public disclosure of the majority of the data in its Firearms Trace System database, including to local and state government officials (other than law enforcement). However, under the Freedom of Information Act, the ATF is required to share such data, so long as the request does not seek information that would reasonably interfere with a law enforcement investigation. In the case of Baltimore’s FOIA request to ATF, the information requested does not qualify as sensitive law enforcement data and, as such, should have been provided to the city.

From 2017 to 2021, 60 percent of the guns recovered in Baltimore for which a source state could be identified originated outside of Maryland’s borders. While the City of Baltimore has made strides in promoting public safety and advancing gun violence prevention policies and programs to protect Baltimoreans, the City and Mayor Scott continue to search for new and innovative ways to advance public safety. For the first time since 2015, Baltimore is on track to see less than 300 homicides this year. Mayor Brandon Scott and the City decided to file this lawsuit to gain access to critical data from ATF that can help city officials continue this trend and further reduce gun violence across Baltimore.

The filing of this lawsuit comes at a time when both Baltimore and ATF have made progress in improving public safety. Recently, the comment period closed for ATF’s proposed rulemaking, clarifying when someone is “engaged in the business” of dealing firearms and ensuring background checks occur on more gun sales, and ATF received over 274,000 comments in support of its rule as written. Still, more can and must be done to ensure that cities like Baltimore have the tools and information they need to make even more progress in keeping their communities safe.

Read the full complaint here.

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