Follow the Guns

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

THE BUREAU of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) used to release analyses of data gained by tracing the history of guns used in crimes. These reports yielded valuable information for local law enforcement officials, researchers and the public. Some of the results were startling: For example, 57 percent of crime guns came from 1.2 percent of licensed dealers, the ATF estimated in 2000. The guns the bad guys use don't just come from the black market, in other words; a huge proportion come from a handful of unscrupulous vendors.

But since Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) added a rider to the Justice Department's budget in 2003, the ATF has been prohibited from sharing such gun-trace information with the public, keeping additional insights that might be gained from the data out of public view and making it harder for local authorities to connect the dots. Every year since, the so-called Tiahrt Amendment has gotten more restrictive, narrowing the ability of local police to gain access to or apply gun-trace information. The worst iteration yet came last month, when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a version from Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) that threatens to put police officers in prison if they use federal gun-trace data for any purpose other than to advance specific, "bona fide criminal investigations" -- for proactively tracking and interdicting illicit guns, for example, or identifying problem gun sellers.

The House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider a less restrictive, but still odious, provision tomorrow. The panel should remove the Tiahrt language, and the House Democratic leadership should encourage its members to do so. District Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) yesterday called for repeal at a joint news conference, and their cause is backed by more than 200 other mayors and scores of law enforcement organizations and police chiefs. Striking the Tiahrt rider is not about chipping away at Second Amendment rights. It is about empowering local authorities to do basic police work.

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