- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Supreme Court yesterday canceled plans to consider whether the government can withhold information on some gun purchases and crimes because a new law may affect the case.
The justices were scheduled to hear arguments next week in the case that asked whether the government had to make public details of database checks, including names of gun shops and gun owners whose weapons were used in crimes.
Congressional Republicans included a provision restricting the release of gun information in the mammoth spending package, passed earlier this month, for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. It prevents the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms from spending money to release the data.
The city of Chicago, which is suing the gun industry, had wanted the court to force the ATF to release information under the Freedom of Information Act. Chicago is trying to recover money spent to respond to gun violence, including expenses by police, medical units and other municipal agencies.
Justices vacated an appeals court decision in Chicago's favor, and sent the case back to the appeals court to consider Congress' actions.
Lawrence Rosenthal, Chicago's attorney, said the ban should not affect the case because Chicago is willing to pay the expenses of providing the data.
Congressional supporters "did not have the votes to actually forbid the release of this data," Mr. Rosenthal said. "All they had enough support to do was make sure the taxpayers didn't have to foot the bill for releasing this information."
At issue is access to information on 200,000 firearm traces a year, in which police, after confiscating a weapon in a crime, track down who made it, sold it and bought it.
The ATF releases some information now, after a time lapse, but erases the names of the gun maker, the seller, the buyer and the place the gun was used in a crime.
The Bush administration, backed by the National Rifle Association and a police group, had argued that confidential records are needed to safeguard investigations and protect people's privacy.
Congress' action in the matter, days before the court was to take it up, angered some gun-control advocates.
"Giving ATF such special treatment only serves to protect crooked gun dealers and to prevent victims of gun violence from seeking justice," said Michael Barnes, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
That group and others contend the administration's policy keeps the public in the dark about weapon violence and the success of crime-fighting efforts.
The court was to consider the scope of a federal public information law, which allows reporters and other outsiders to get unclassified government records that officials would not otherwise release. Arguments had been scheduled for Tuesday.


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