By Champe Barton
The Trace, November 3, 2023
An activist has sued the agency for information about U.S. guns smuggled to Mexico and Central America, data that researchers say would provide insights into cross border firearms trafficking.
On October 20, a California federal judge heard arguments in a lawsuit seeking to compel the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to turn over data about guns smuggled from the United States into Mexico and Central America. The data, if released, would represent just the second time in two decades that the
ATF has offered a detailed glimpse inside its firearms tracing database, which has been a black box to the public since Congress restricted its disclosure in 2003.
The suit stems from the ATF’s denial of a Freedom of Information Act Request submitted in March 2021 by John Lindsay-Poland, an Oakland-based anti-arms-trafficking activist and the plaintiff in the case. The request sought data on guns that were purchased in the U.S. before being recovered at crime scenes in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Lindsay-Poland asked the ATF to provide statistics on the origins of firearms recovered in each country, including the U.S. states, counties, and zip codes where they were purchased, among other information.
The four countries he cited grapple with some of the worst firearm homicides rates in the world, largely driven by guns trafficked from the U.S. Publicly available ATF records show that in each of those countries, U.S.-sourced guns account for between 37 percent and 70 percent of all guns recovered and traced by law enforcement. According to Lindsay-Poland’s lawsuit, the data he is seeking would shed light on how cross-border gun smuggling is organized, shifts in trafficking trends over time, and the impact of state gun laws.
“This data has the potential to help save lives,” Lindsay-Poland told The Trace. “It would provide an opportunity to understand the dynamics of international gun trafficking with greater clarity, and to design more effective ways to combat it.”