Jun 28 2007

Shelby Fights for Safety of Law Enforcement

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee today approved an amendment sponsored by Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, that would ensure that gun trace data collected by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is only used for legitimate law enforcement purposes related to a specific case or investigation. 

The amendment is similar to language that has been included in the CJS bill since 2003.  However, it incorporates improvements requested by the President and law enforcement officials.  The bill will now go to the Senate floor for consideration.

Full text of Senator Shelby’s remarks on the amendment as prepared are below:

Mr. Chairman, at this time I would like to offer an amendment for consideration by the Full Committee.

Chairwoman Mikulski and I have worked closely on this Subcommittee mark, and will continue to do so.  However, we disagree on a critical issue.  My amendment is about the legitimate use of firearms trace data by law enforcement officers.  In the Subcommittee mark before you today, a critical restriction on the use of trace data has been removed and would expand the use of this information beyond the realm of a legitimate investigation.

The amendment I am offering would re-insert the limitations on the use of gun trace data that has been in this bill since Fiscal Year 2003, known as the Tiahrt amendment. 

This amendment is not precedent-setting and is largely what has been law for the last four years. It does contain important changes, including making this provision permanent, and grandfathering in all previously disclosed trace data information, which I believe was the intent of Congress when this provision was originally adopted.  

A key component of the ATF's mission is the tracing of firearms on behalf of more than 18,000 Federal, State and local agencies -- approximately 270,000 annually. The ATF’s long-standing policy has been to provide the data to law enforcement agencies that have jurisdiction over the specific case where the trace is relevant -- not to politicians, lawyers and overzealous individuals who could misuse the information and put law enforcement officers in harm’s way. 

Last year, New York City officials used gun-crime trace data to conduct a number of so-called “sting operations” with private detectives in multiple states, unbeknownst to federal, state or local law enforcement agencies. These rogue operations jeopardized ongoing investigations and possibly interfered with other agencies’ work.  The ATF had open investigations on a number of the same targets at the time and as a result, there was a negative impact on the criminal investigations. 

More investigations have not been jeopardized because this data has not been released.  It should never be available to individuals that would endanger the lives of law enforcement officers and compromise on-going investigations.

Neither this amendment nor the ATF prevents the sharing of trace data with law enforcement officials conducting criminal investigations. There are no restrictions on the sharing of trace data with other jurisdictions once it is in the hands of state or local law enforcement officials.  This amendment does protect ongoing police investigations and allows police to share information for any bona fide investigation -- nothing more.

Mr. Chairman, my amendment allows for information sharing as the language clearly states that it does not “prevent the sharing or exchange of [trace] information among and between federal, state, tribal, local or foreign law enforcement agencies or federal, state, or local prosecutors, or national security, intelligence, or counterterrorism officials” for use in bona fide criminal investigations or prosecutions. 

My proposal also deletes provisions previously contained in this bill, that limited disclosure of information that “pertains to the geographic jurisdiction” of the requesting agency.  This step clearly clarifies that there is no intention to prevent interagency cooperation.  It also states that the ATF data cannot be used in testimony or as exhibits in third-party civil actions.  If this is about fighting crime and not about suing the gun industry, then everyone should support this. 

I must submit to my colleagues that without this amendment, sensitive trace data will become available to criminals and result in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, resulting in civil subpoenas for specific trace information that could require the contemporaneous release of trace data jeopardizing pending investigations and the safety of witnesses, informants and law enforcement personnel. 

Without this amendment, the names and personal information of thousands of innocent law-abiding citizens who have not committed a crime could be publicly released.  Politicians, criminals and even terrorists, could eventually have access to sensitive trace data and personal information. 

Why would we dare risk the safety and privacy of American citizens and the spilling the blood of our law enforcement officers? 

This amendment has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Rifle Association, the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, among others.

Having served as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, I have a strong record of being critical of federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies for not sharing enough information with state and local law enforcement agencies.  There is a difference between the sharing of pertinent information and the reckless sharing of sensitive and personal information.  Make no mistake about it; this amendment has nothing to do with catering to the gun industry and everything to do with protecting the safety and privacy of American citizens and law enforcement officers.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.  At the appropriate time, I will ask for a roll call vote on my amendment.