not implicate any business actor in a crime. Washington Post Co. v. United States Dep't of Justice, 274 U.S. App. D.C. 190, 863 F.2d 96, 100 (D.C. Cir. 1988); see also Sims v. C.I.A., 206 U.S. App. D.C. 157, 642 F.2d 562 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (Exemption 6). Exemption 7(C) does not apply to information in law enforcement reports that is not inculpatory or inflammatory and does not jeopardize an inchoate or ongoing criminal investigation. Nation Magazine v. United States Customs Service, 315 U.S. App. D.C. 177, 71 F.3d 885 (D.C. Cir. 1995). An agency may not "exempt from disclosure all of the material in an investigatory record solely on the grounds that the record includes some information which identifies a private citizen or provides that person's name and address." 71 F.3d at 896. The categorical exclusion from release of names in law enforcement reports applies only to subjects, witnesses, or informants in law enforcement investigations. Id.
ATF is of course free to withhold a specific report or group of reports under Exemption 7(A) (interference with law enforcement proceedings) but has not done so in this case. ATF declined the invitation at oral argument to assert that public disclosure of some but not all multiple sales reports would compromise ongoing investigations by disclosing its interest in those dealers whose records are withheld under an Exemption 7(A) claim.
(b) The interests of gun buyers. Plaintiff asks only for the serial numbers of guns sold and has expressly requested that the names of buyers be deleted. The privacy interest with respect to buyers, accordingly, arises only if they can be identified by the public release of gun serial numbers. It is undisputed that only six states maintain public lists of gun serial numbers and owners. Plaintiff's FOIA request involves only one of these states: Alabama -- and in Alabama, the database is not computerized. Polston Decl. at P 20. The privacy interests of gun buyers in the release of multiple sales reports is thus vanishingly small.
2. The public interest
Because ATF has not demonstrated the existence of more than negligible privacy interests in the quotidian business transactions recorded in ATF multiple sales reports, plaintiff does not need to assert a very compelling public interest to obtain the information it seeks. And, indeed, the public interest asserted here is too broadly drawn to withstand more than the low level of scrutiny required by ATF's showing.
"Mere speculation about hypothetical public benefits," United States Dep't of State v. Ray, 502 U.S. 164, 178, 116 L. Ed. 2d 526, 112 S. Ct. 541 (1991), will not suffice, however. There must be some public interest in disclosure, and it must reflect FOIA's core purpose of "shedding light on an agency's performance of its statutory duties." United States Dep't of Justice v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 489 U.S. 749, 109 S. Ct. 1468, 1481-82, 103 L. Ed. 2d 774 (1989).
Plaintiff wants to use the multiple sales reports, inter alia, to learn how many guns that show up in the Firearms Trace Database were sold in multiple sales transactions and whether particular types or models of handguns sold in multiples are also frequently used to commit crimes. Plaintiff also wants to analyze the reports to determine if there is any correlation between the locations of dealers, multiple sales transactions and guns used in crime. Together, these studies will "open to public scrutiny ATF's performance of its statutory duties by determining whether ATF is employing the most efficient methods and allocating the proper resources to enforce the country's gun control laws and curtail illegal interstate gun trafficking." Pltf.'s Brief at 33. This self-appointed watchdog role is recognized in our system. Its public benefit would arguably be too hypothetical to outweigh a "demonstrably significant" invasion of privacy, but since only miniscule privacy interests are implicated in the multiple sales reports in the form requested by plaintiff, plaintiff's articulation of public interest will suffice in this case.
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An appropriate order accompanies this memorandum.
United States District Judge
For the reasons stated in the accompanying memorandum, it is this 20th day of October, 1997,
ORDERED that plaintiff's and defendant's cross-motions to dismiss or for summary judgment [ # # 14 & 18] are each granted in part and denied in part. Summary judgment is awarded to plaintiff on Count I as to its request for the names and locations of federal firearms licensees and gun serial numbers contained in the multiple sales reports. Count I of plaintiff's complaint is dismissed insofar as it seeks the release without the payment of copying costs of records outside of the 10 percent document sampling provided to plaintiff. Count II is dismissed.
United States District Judge
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