The Washington Post is publishing a rather spectacular series of stories this week tracing the flow of guns through American society and their use in criminal activity. The Post series directly challenges — and partially overcomes — the barriers to public disclosure of gun sales that were put in place by Congress under pressure from the National Rifle Association and gun dealers in 2003.
“At the urging of the gun lobby seven years ago,” the Post explained, “Congress removed from public view a federal database that traced guns back to stores. The blackout helped cut off a growing number of lawsuits against and newspaper investigations of gun stores. To break this secrecy in Maryland, Virginia and the District [of Columbia], The Post relied on its own analysis of state and local records.” See “Industry pressure hides gun traces, protects dealers from public scrutiny” by James V. Grimaldi and Sari Horwitz, October 24.
The barriers to public disclosure of gun sale data that were enacted by Congress in 2003 were analyzed by the Congressional Research Service in “Gun Control: Statutory Disclosure Limitations on ATF Firearms Trace Data and Multiple Handgun Sales Reports” (pdf), May 27, 2009.