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Association News: August 1998

By James J. Fotis, Executive Director Law Enforcement Alliance of America

Are Gun Ban Groups Snooping Around in Your Records?

Sadly, the answer may be yes. The Second Amendment has taken yet another beating in D.C. District Court, which recently authorized the public disclosure of both the serial numbers of multiple sale firearms and the identity of their retail purchasers. The case is Center to Prevent Handgun Violence (CPHV) v. U.S. Department of the Treasury, et al. (Civ.No. 96-1590).

A “multiple sale report” is mandated when more than one handgun is sold to the same buyer within five business days, and is submitted by the gun dealer to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Now, the gun ban activists at CPHV, which bills itself as an “educational arm” of Handgun Control, Inc., have been granted access to these records — with no restrictions on how they use the information.

Multiple sales of handguns are by no means an uncommon or inherently criminal event. Law enforcement officers frequently purchase multiple handguns for off-duty use. Now, officers — along with collectors, hobbyists, and competitors — will be open to harassment and ridicule by gun control advocates.

Worse yet, when their identities are inevitably exposed through the media —as we’ve seen with public disclosure of permits for concealed carry — these innocent purchasers are wide open to attack by criminals.

The CPHV claimed that they needed the sales information in order to research the relationship between multiple handgun sales and any criminal activity later found to involve these firearms. Of course, BATF reviews these records for exactly the same purpose, and there is no indication — other than the complaints of anti-gun activists — that BATF has not fully utilized this information for criminal investigations. In fact, according to the BATF, ongoing and future investigations may be jeopardized by the release of information.

It should be obvious that dishonest purchasers will find ways to bypass the reporting requirement to avoid detection. BATF stated that releasing such data will serve only to benefit the black market, and would effectively defeat the legislative purpose of the reporting requirement by driving illicit sales underground.

The decision is a clear infringement upon the privacy interests of federal firearm licensees, law-abiding citizens and law enforcement. The fear of harassment and exposure to criminal predation may deter many honest citizens from purchasing firearms, while vindictive criminals will no doubt take advantage of the opportunity to pursue law enforcement for vengeance and profit.

Once again, the anti-gun lobby has unleashed the law of unintended consequences with no regard or responsibility for the aftermath. We strongly urge BATF to appeal this ruling and protect the privacy, and the safety, of the public and law enforcement alike.

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