In March, we filed a request for gun records under the Freedom of Information Act. We’re trying to understand how often guns that police sell to the public end up being used in crimes.

Two months later, Alain Stephens, a Reveal Investigative Fellow, still hadn’t heard anything. He wrote an email to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to check on its status. The response: Due to an administrative error, the request hadn’t been opened.

Now, eight months after the initial filing, we’re still waiting for a response from the ATF and Department of Justice. We’ve grown tired of waiting, and this week, we filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department for the records.

The ATF keeps a vast archive of information on the origin of guns used in crimes, known as gun trace data. The federal government already puts considerable restrictions on the release of this information. In 2008, Congress passed the Tiahrt Amendment, blocking the ATF from releasing information about guns used in crimes to the public. Previously, the information had been released to the public and used by the media to show the origin of crime guns.

We’re not even trying to get that information. The law does allow the “release of aggregate statistical data on illegal gun trafficking or statistical information on the U.S. firearms industry.” It also does not forbid the disclosure of  information about the ATF’s policies and procedures.

We’re requesting information about how the ATF tracks former law enforcement weapons, how it communicates with law enforcement agencies when a weapon does turn up in a crime and how often these weapons come up in traces.

We hope to get the information in time to include in a Reveal show on the topic that’s planned for December. Regardless, we’ll keep fighting. It’s a core part of our mission, as investigative journalists, to relentlessly seek the release of important government information to the public.

Andrew Donohue can be reached at adonohue@revealnews.org. Follow him on Twitter: @add

Andrew Donohue is the deputy editor for Reveal. He works with the audience team to find out what the public needs from – and what it can contribute to – our reporting. Stories Donohue has reported and edited have led to criminal charges, firings and reforms in public housing, pesticide use, sexual harassment and labor practices, among other areas. As a reporter and editor, he’s won awards from Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Online News Association and others. Previously, Donohue helped build and lead Voice of San Diego, a pioneering local news startup. He was a John S. Knight fellow at Stanford University, where he worked on deepening engagement with investigative reporting. He serves on the IRE board of directors.