WASHINGTON -- A House committee gave a victory to the firearms industry yesterday, voting to bar the disclosure of some federal gun records for use in civil lawsuits.
The information, including records of sales and a gun's use in crimes, is compiled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Under a provision the House Appropriations Committee approved by a bipartisan 42-19 margin, that data could only be released to prosecutors and for criminal investigations.
The measure's sponsor, Representative Todd Tiahrt, Republican of Kansas, said it was sparked by a recent court ruling in Brooklyn. Magistrate Judge Cheryl Pollak ruled last month that New York City may access the records as part of a suit the city has brought against 40 gunmakers and distributors for business practices the city claims let criminals get firearms.
The provision was criticized by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said it would scuttle the city's gun suit.
"It is an outrage," Bloomberg said in New York. "This is an end-run by the [National Rifle Association] to take away the police department's ability to get guns off the street and for us to hold gun manufacturers liable."
The city has sought the information to buttress its argument that gun manufacturers use marketing and distribution practices that allow criminals to get firearms, creating a public nuisance. The suit could go to trial this fall.
Tiahrt, a frequent NRA ally, said gun opponents were trying to use the information to target the gun industry in suits like New York's. He also said public release of the data could "tip off criminals," jeopardizing criminal investigations and possibly identifying informants.
The provision was hailed by Chris W. Cox, an NRA lobbyist, as "a common sense proposal aimed at protecting the rights of law enforcement and gun-owning Americans."
Opponents, including Representative Patrick Kennedy, Democrat of Rhode Island, said the amendment was aimed at stifling the release of information the NRA wants kept secret, and said the data's disclosure would not hinder criminal investigations.
"If they think they're doing this on behalf of law enforcement, think again," Kennedy said.
The provision was added to a $39.8 billion measure financing the Justice, Commerce, and State departments for 2005. The Senate has yet to write its version of the legislation.