FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 16, 2006
MAYOR BLOOMBERG AND POLICE COMMISSIONER KELLY JOIN SENATOR SCHUMER TO BACK NEW LEGISLATION TO LET CITIES USE FEDERAL DATA TO CRACK DOWN ON ILLEGAL GUN SALES
One Day After New York City Launched Landmark Interstate Federal Lawsuit Against Rogue Gun Dealers, Mayor Goes to Washington DC to Back New Schumer Bill
Schumer Bill Would Reverse Congressional Attempts to Both Keep Gun Trace Data From Local Law Enforcement and to Block Law Enforcement Agencies From Sharing it with Each Other
Bill Also Applies Federal Racketeering Laws to Gun Traffickers
One day after he launched a sweeping interstate Federal lawsuit against 15 gun dealers caught on camera selling firearms in violation of federal law, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg went to Washington, D.C. to support New York Senator Charles E. Schumer as he introduced a bill that would give state and local law enforcement agencies access to the federal government’s gun trace data and reverse previous acts of Congress that have restricted the right to this data. The “Anti-Gun Trafficking Penalties Enforcement Act” relates to gun trace data compiled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), which is critical to tracking the origin of firearms used in crimes. Under this bill, ATF trace data and expert testimony based on it would be admissible in court and in licensing and other administrative proceedings. The bill also includes provisions for increasing penalties for gun trafficking, the ability to apply the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) against gun traffickers, increased information sharing between local authorities and the ATF, and the removal of limits on how often the ATF can inspect federal firearms licensees. Mayor Bloomberg and Senator Schumer were joined today by Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo and Criminal Justice Coordinator John Feinblatt.
“Illegal guns plague the streets of every big city in America and we can’t tell our law enforcement agencies to fight them with one hand tied behind their backs,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “This bill would reverse the outrageous attempts to deny law enforcement agencies critical gun trace information that would help save the lives of innocent people and police officers in New York City and across the nation – and I want to applaud Senator Schumer for his leadership in introducing it.”
“We shouldn't be tying the hands of law enforcement when they try to stop crime guns from making their way to our city streets. We should be giving them every available tool to fight crime guns,” said Senator Schumer. “Ninety-two percent of the guns used in crimes in New York City come from out of state. Last November, one of those guns was used to kill New York Police Officer Dillon Stewart. We need to find out where illegal guns are coming from, before they are used in crimes."
Gun trace data is vital in tracking the origin of firearms and enabling law enforcement agencies to identify those dealers that sell illegally. When a law enforcement agency recovers a gun used in a crime, ATF trace data can pinpoint who bought the gun and where. This bill would ensure that this trace data would again be available to law enforcement agencies and state and local governments and that sharing this data between these agencies would not be penalized. Previous House amendments, such as the so-called “Tiahrt Amendments” attached to the FY 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 House Appropriations Bills, have restricted access to this information and prevented it from being used in civil litigation. Similar severe restrictions to gun trace data were recently introduced in the House of Representatives as part of HR 5005. If passed, the legislation would not only severely restrict access to gun trace data, but would criminalize the act of sharing this data among law enforcement agencies – potentially sending police officers to jail. The Schumer bill would reverse these restrictions and make trace data and expert testimony based on it admissible in court and in licensing and other administrative proceedings. It also allows the courts and licensing authorities to consider trace data in their decision making.
The Schumer bill would also apply the RICO Act against gun traffickers, allowing both federal criminal prosecutions and civil lawsuits. Civil lawsuits could move forward with plaintiffs able to collect treble damages (triple the amount of actual damages from gun traffickers). While selling only to straw purchasers will not trigger RICO, selling to convicted felons or other persons barred by federal law would.
“By ratcheting up the penalties against gun traffickers, Senator Schumer’s bill will help ensure that the punishment fits the crime – in this case, the punishment for peddling death through the sale of illegal guns,” said Police Commissioner Kelly. “There is no more menacing threat to the streets of New York or any other major American city. Likewise, we cannot put more innocent lives at risk by protecting irresponsible gun dealers through the restriction of trace data. This bill would repeal the misguided attempts to do so and greatly enhance the public’s safety.”
“Yesterday, New York City took a major step forward in holding gun dealers accountable by filing a law suit against 15 rogue dealers from five states,” said Criminal Justice Coordinator Feinblatt. “We did it because it is our responsibility to protect New Yorkers from illegal guns. Senator Schumer's legislation recognizes that barring trace data from civil litigation is tantamount to the federal government giving a free pass to irresponsible dealers who break the law. This bill is exactly what law enforcement needs to protect New Yorkers and make rogue dealers face the consequences of their actions.”
The bill would also remove the limits on how often the ATF can inspect federal firearms licensees. Under current law, the ATF is generally allowed to inspect each licensee’s inventory and records only once per year. This limitation allows rogue gun dealers to conceal their violations of federal firearms laws – specifically in instances when dealers claim to “lose” guns, covertly supply illegal gun traffickers and conceal the identities of actual gun buyers.
The Schumer bill would also increase information sharing with the ATF by making it a requirement of federal agencies and state and local law enforcement agencies who receive federal grants to report stolen guns and gun crimes to the database. The bill also provides for increases in the maximum penalties for various federal crimes related to gun trafficking from 10 to 20 years. These crimes include providing a gun for use in drug crime and giving a gun to a felon or someone else who, under federal law, is not allowed to possess a firearm. The bill would likewise increase the penalties for crossing state lines to get a gun for use in a crime and for dealing in guns across state lines without the required license.
Yesterday, New York City filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of New York against 15 gun dealers identified as selling firearms in violation of federal law. The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief intended to halt the dealers' illegal practices and to recover money damages. The 15 gun dealers named in the lawsuit are located in five states – Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia – and were targeted because of the large number of guns that have been traced back to them following crimes committed in New York City. Based in part on the incomplete data available to the City, guns purchased from these 15 gun dealers have been traced by the New York City Police Department to more than 500 serious crimes between 1994 and 2001.
In his January State of the City speech, Mayor Bloomberg pledged to target dealers who sell guns illegally and hold them accountable for their actions. To do this, the Mayor is using a comprehensive three-pronged approach of stronger enforcement, new legislation and innovative litigation to combat illegal guns. Enforcement efforts include creating specialized Gun Courts, which have resulted in longer sentences for gun offenders, working to introduce gun shot detection cameras that will discourage the use and possession of illegal guns, and establishing a “debriefing” protocol for every felony gun defendant, which is helping law enforcement agencies learn more about the identities of gun traffickers. The Mayor is also seeking new City and State legislation to close loopholes and increase penalties for illegal guns, and to require gun dealers to do more to protect against lost and stolen guns.
Recognizing that illegal guns are a national problem requiring national leadership, Mayor Bloomberg, together with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, recently hosted a Mayors’ Summit on Illegal Guns that was attended by more than a dozen mayors from across the nation, from Seattle to Dallas to Philadelphia. The nonpartisan group of mayors discussed cutting-edge policing and legal strategies, identified opportunities for greater coordination in combating the flow of illegal guns, and signed a statement of principles to guide their efforts going forward.
Stu Loeser/Virginia Lam (212) 788-2958
Risa Heller (Schumer) (202) 224-7433
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