Lawsuit Seeks Gun Buy-Back Records

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

Chicago ( - A libertarian activist in Illinois is filing a lawsuit this week against Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan, charging violations of the Freedom of Information Act as part of an alleged, ongoing cover-up of a "badly mismanaged" government gun buy-back operation.

The plaintiff is Matt Beauchamp, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Chicago and last year's Libertarian Party nominee in Illinois' Fifth Congressional District. His suit is being filed in the county court here Friday.

The case stems from a 1999 gun buy-back, sponsored by the Cook County sheriff, as part of the local gun control policy agenda. During September of 1999, the county sheriff urged local citizens to turn in old firearms in exchange for $50. No questions asked. The idea was that the buy-back would encourage criminals -- or would-be criminals -- to turn over their weapons, without liability or possible prosecution.

According to research conducted through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by Mr. Beauchamp, the project cost the county approximately $200,000, and netted 5,400 guns, including 10 antique firearms.

But officials from the Cook County sheriff's department allegedly will not disclose the true, present location of those antique firearms -- some of which are said to be from the Civil War -- to Beauchamp. The county sheriff has, moreover, told Beauchamp that the federal government's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms now has possession of the weapons.

Beauchamp says he has corresponded with the ATF, and been told, in writing that the organization has no knowledge of the location of the firearms.

"ATF never took possession of the guns," Beauchamp says. "The sheriff mismanaged this."

Beauchamp wants the court to order the county sheriff to turn over other, relevant government records relating to what was done with the firearms after they were collected during the buy-back.

But a spokesman for the county sheriff dismisses Beauchamp's complaint. "We've been expecting the case to be filed," said Bill Cunningham, a spokesman for the sheriff. "But we think the suit will be dismissed. It has no merit. We're on sound legal ground."

Beauchamp believes he will win in the end, and that the public will learn how the county sheriff really disposed of the firearms, via the freedom of information laws.

"We'll win the case," says Beauchamp. "We've followed the law to the letter."