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Baltimore City suing ATF over improper denial of gun crime data

Baltimore City suing ATF over improper denial of gun crime data
Baltimore City suing ATF over improper denial of gun crime data 03:05

BALTIMORE --- Baltimore City has filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), alleging that the agency improperly denied critical gun crime data, Mayor Brandon Scott announced Tuesday.

The lawsuit claims one key federal amendment is blocking cities like Baltimore from getting this information.

The ATF maintains a database of firearm trace data, which officials can use to track the flow of recovered guns from manufacturer to distributor.

But Scott says the bureau denied a Freedom of Information Act request for that data in September, which would have provided city leaders with the top ten sources of crime guns in Baltimore between 2018 and 2022.

The FOIA request also asked for the average time it took from the guns being sold to being used in a crime.

"Right now we're not able to know if there's one gun store responsible for a disproportionate number of the guns flowing into our city, or if there's one area where trafficking guns is more common than others - but we should know," Scott said.    

The complaint first lists several gun violence incidents to illustrate the damage these crimes have done in the city: naming homicide victims Maya Morton, 23, Izaiah Carter, 16, and recalling an incident where three Carver Vocational Technical High School were shot in October.

Mayor Scott also recalled Tuesday the shooting death of a two-year-old in Park Heights from the weekend.

"With a gun, we know probably shouldn't have been in that house," he said.

The big obstacle to this data, according to the complaint, is the Tiahrt Rider. This amendment, which was first passed into federal law back in 2003, allows law enforcement and prosecutors to get gun tracing data for specific cases.

However, these agencies and individuals are not allowed to share it. The Tiahrt Rider is why the ATF denied the request, according to the complaint.

But, Everytown Law -- the litigation arm of the gun control advocacy nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety -- said the amendment doesn't address FOIA.

Alla Lefkowitz, the senior director of affirmative litigation at Everytown Law, adds adhering to the request wouldn't cause privacy issues, either.

"FOIA itself has those exceptions already built in, so we have not asked for anything like that. So, to the extent that an individual's identity or an actual ongoing sensitive law enforcement investigation is implicated -- that data cannot be shared anyway," Lefkowitz said.

Mayor Scott said gun violence in Baltimore has seen a 20% reduction in homicides and an 8% reduction in non-fatal shootings. He said the city has committed to using data, so acquiring gun tracing data would only help.

"Guns from outside of Baltimore City continue to flood our streets and end up in the hands of those who frankly should not have access to these tools of death and destruction.  A huge part of this progress been our commitment to using data in order to inform our approaches to public safety," Mayor Scott said.

Mayor Scott also made it clear Tuesday, saying this lawsuit is not about getting at ATF, but about clearing the hurdle the Tiahrt Rider creates.

"The current interpretation of the rider impedes our ability to examine the data and use that analysis to go after those gun traffickers," he said.

WJZ reached out to the ATF for a statement, but the bureau said it does not comment on pending litigation.

It's been 20 years since a municipality sued for this data, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

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