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Archive for Thursday, February 27, 2003

Supreme Court cancels gun-records case

February 27, 2003

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— The Supreme Court bowed out of a dispute for now about the openness of government gun records, citing a new law designed to keep information private.

The justices on Wednesday canceled next week's arguments in a case that would have settled whether the government had to make public details of a weapons database, including the names of gun shops and gun owners whose weapons were used in crimes.

The case tested the bounds of the Freedom of Information Act, which allows reporters and other outsiders to get unclassified government records that officials would not otherwise release.

The court's action does not end the dispute between the city of Chicago and the Bush administration, which will not release information that the city wants for its lawsuit against the gun industry.

The justices instructed an appeals court to consider whether a congressional provision restricting the release of gun information affected the case.

Congressional Republicans included the restriction in a spending bill passed earlier this month. It prevents the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from spending money to release the data.

The city is trying to recover money spent fighting gun violence. Lawrence Rosenthal, Chicago's attorney, said the ban should not affect the case because Chicago is willing to pay the costs of providing the data, as is routine under the information act.

The administration, the National Rifle Assn. and other groups had argued that confidential records are needed to safeguard investigations and protect people's privacy.

At issue is access to information on about 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 items such as the name of the seller and the buyer.

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