Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Laws stop city leaders from figuring out where crime guns come from. Baltimore is taking legal action to discover this information

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Last summer in Baltimore, Krystal Gonzalez was shocked by her husband’s screams on a hot July night. He rarely raised his voice. She couldn’t understand his words, but he mentioned their daughter, Aaliyah, being shot.

Aaliyah had left home hours earlier, saying a final “I love you” before heading to a block party. When Gonzalez found her later, covered with a sheet at a mass shooting during Brooklyn Day, it was heartbreaking. Her daughter, who had just graduated from high school, was gone.

Gonzalez, desperate to see Aaliyah, was stopped by police, warning her not to witness the tragic scene. The memory haunts her every day. Aaliyah, 18, was one of two killed in the shooting, injuring 28 others in south Baltimore’s Brooklyn Homes neighborhood on July 2 around 12:30 a.m.

Some people got caught after a shooting in Baltimore, but they haven’t been charged with the murders of Aaliyah Gonzalez and Kylis Fagbemi. Mayor Brandon Scott thinks the guns might have come from another state.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has data that shows most guns used in crimes in Maryland were not bought there. Only cops can check the history of these guns. Mayor Scott and others can’t access this info because of a law called the Tiahrt Amendment.

Baltimore is suing the ATF because they believe knowing where the guns come from will help stop them. The city claims that even though there are no gun stores, 84% of the reported homicides since 2007 were done with guns.

The city says the ATF is not following the law properly and that they should be able to get the info under the Open FOIA Act. Many Democrats in Congress agree and wrote a letter to President Joe Biden, asking him to make the Department of Justice review the law.

Mayor Scott says without this info, they can’t have all the tools they need to fight gun violence.

Biden said he’d make it easier to get info about guns. He wanted to get rid of rules like Tiahrt to tackle gun violence. But, he hasn’t told his team to check it out yet.

Someone from the White House told CNN, “In the beginning, we asked the Department of Justice to look at Tiahrt.” They said to ask the DOJ for more info.

CNN asked the Department of Justice, but they didn’t say anything.

Groups that like Tiahrt, like the Police and the Gun Industry, say sharing this secret info would mess up crime investigations and put gun shops in danger. People who study guns and violence say the DOJ can keep info safe while helping local areas.

Research says many guns are used for crimes more than once. A professor named Alex Piquero says, “Knowing this helps the city and police catch bad businesses. If you don’t know the problem, how can you send help where it’s needed?”

Biden promised to make it easier for people to find out about guns. He wanted to change rules, like Tiahrt, to deal with gun violence. However, he hasn’t told his team to check it out yet.

Someone from the White House told CNN, “At first, we asked the Department of Justice to look at Tiahrt.” They suggested asking the DOJ for more information.

CNN asked the Department of Justice, but they didn’t provide any answers.

Groups that support Tiahrt, like the Police and the Gun Industry, argue that sharing this confidential information would disrupt crime investigations and endanger gun shops. However, experts who study guns and violence say the DOJ can keep information secure while assisting local areas.

Research indicates that many guns are used for crimes more than once. A professor named Alex Piquero says, “Knowing this helps the city and police catch problematic businesses. If you don’t know the problem, how can you send help where it’s needed?”

The ATF, which deals with tracing firearms linked to crimes, wants to slow down or stop guns from moving into the wrong hands. The director, Steven Dettelbach, says it’s too easy for guns to go from legal to illegal markets. He didn’t talk about the Tiahrt Amendment but mentioned that Congress has rules on sharing trace information. The amendment, named after gun rights supporter Todd Tiahrt, allows the ATF to release certain data without revealing investigation details. Despite restrictions, recent reports on crime guns show trends without disclosing specific identities.

The issue with the Tiahrt Amendment is causing a lot of debate, as seen in the Baltimore lawsuit and the letter from Democrats to Biden. Garen Wintemute from UC Davis Health points out that the amendment’s language is unclear, and it has different interpretations. The wording has changed over time, and lawmakers have the power to change or remove it.

Wintemute regrets that not every city has access to the data to study crime gun flow. On the other side, supporters of Tiahrt, like the National Shooting Sports Foundation, argue that gun control groups have misused tracing data in lawsuits. They claim it jeopardizes ongoing investigations and puts lives at risk.

Lawrence Keane, from the Foundation, believes Congress won’t repeal Tiahrt because it had support from law enforcement and the Justice Department. Even if tracing data shows many crime guns from one source, it doesn’t mean someone did something wrong, according to Keane.

Democrat Rep. Maxwell Frost emphasizes the need for more action. He wants common-sense gun control policies without taking guns from lawful owners. Frost thinks Congress and the White House should work together to make us safer.

Baltimore’s Mayor Scott insists his efforts are not targeting legal gun owners and dealers. He aims to save lives and help police investigations, preventing the same guns from the same stores ending up on the streets year after year.

For Aaliyah’s mother, gun violence is deeply personal and irreversible. She copes by remembering Aaliyah’s hugs and envisioning her speaking, but the pain of the permanent loss remains.

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