What To Know Today

NEW from THE TRACE: Court rules that ATF must release crime gun trace data. In 2017, my colleague, Alain Stephens, then an investigative fellow at Reveal, filed a public records request asking the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives how many guns once owned by police departments had been found at crime scenes. The ATF refused, much as it has rejected similar inquires since the 2003 enactment of the Tiahrt Amendment, a National Rifle Association-backed measure that bars the bureau from releasing gun trace data to the public. Citing an exemption to the law, lawyers for Reveal sued the ATF to compel them to turn over the data. Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in their favor, opening the door to information that could provide a new understanding of gun violence and trafficking. You can read Alain’s story here

Scrutiny of Justice Department’s hiring of discredited gun researcher grows as Senate Dems demand answers on his role. John Lott recently started working in an advisory capacity at the Office of Justice Programs, which conducts research into violent crime, doles out crime-prevention grants, and funds research on firearm violence and prevention. Gun violence researchers told us that they fear Lott — who pushes the discredited theory that more guns in civilian hands reduces crime — could bury or distort government crime data. Critically, the DOJ hasn’t said whether Lott is a political appointee or was hired for a career civil service position, which would make it far more difficult for the incoming Biden administration to remove him. In a letter to Attorney General William Barr, the Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are seeking details on the nature of Lott’s position and the circumstances of his hiring, as well as a list of political appointees moved into civil service roles by the Trump administration. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, one of the signatories, said in an email, “John Lott burrowing into the civil service at the Justice Department shows how the Trump administration is working behind the scenes to undermine President-elect Biden and his team.” The senators set a December 22 deadline for responding. — Jennifer Mascia, news writer

271 per day: Another new estimate shows the pervasiveness of nonfatal shootings. The figure comes from a University of Pennsylvania study looking at emergency department discharges in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available. The number is slightly higher than the new 230 per day estimate from Everytown for Gun Safety that we covered yesterday. Public health researchers have worked to come up with their own methodologies and estimates for gun injuries given the unreliable figures put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which as The Trace has reported are derived from a small sample of hospitals. When adding gun fatalities, the Penn researchers estimate that 329 people were shot per day from 2009 to 2017, excluding suicides. Dr. M. Kit Delgado, an ER physician and one of the study’s authors, posted a smart thread situating the findings in the context of lacking national gun data. 

Families of mass shooting victims sue ghost gun kit makers. In 2017, a gunman killed five people in Rancho Tehama Reserve, California, using a rifle with parts he obtained from online sellers, despite being barred from owning firearms. In a pair of wrongful death suits brought by the gun reform group Brady, plaintiffs accuse the 13 defendants of intentionally marketing their products to people banned from possessing guns. Unserialized and untraceable DIY weapons are increasingly showing up at crime scenes, as The Trace has documented. Cody Wilson, the figurehead of the 3D-printed gun movement, is named as one of the defendants. 

Arizona Republican Party tweets draw rebuke over potential incitement to violence. Early Tuesday, the state GOP’s Twitter account approvingly quote-tweeted a user with “Stop the Steal” in his handle who said he was “willing to give his life for this fight.” In a since-deleted follow-up, the party account tweeted a clip from a Rambo movie alongside the quote, “Die for something.” Katie Hobbs, the Democratic secretary of state who’s received death threats while President Trump and his supporters push unfounded voting fraud conspiracies, called the messages “dangerous.” A Republican Party spokesperson largely defended the tweets to Phoenix New Times, saying the one post was removed over copyright concerns.

Data Point

~70 percent — the share of seized guns in New York City that come from Southern states, according to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office. Reporting suggests that black market guns are easy to obtain and cost between $300 and $1,000 each. [The New York Times]