The House Appropriations Committee has just passed an amendment—the Tiahrt amendment—that forbids the sharing of information police need to find the source of illegal firearms—guns used in crimes. This amendment is opposed by a broad coalition of police chiefs and mayors, desperate to stop the flow of guns into the cities.
Why vote to cripple police efforts? Because the gun lobby—led by the National Rifle Association—demands it. The gun lobby opposes sharing the information on where the guns used in crimes come from because it fears that that information would be used to enforce current constraints on gun dealers. What was once a concern for insuring that hunters would have access to the guns they need for their hobbies has become an obsession that serves criminals and terrorists.
This isn’t a complicated story. And it shouldn’t even be a close question. Guns are not manufactured in cities. For the most part, the guns used in crimes are not even purchased in the cities where the gun crime takes place.
Where to the guns used in crimes come from? That can be traced—and has been by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. According to a BATF report, only a handful of gun dealers are the source of a bulk of the guns used in crimes. BATF estimates that one percent of the gun dealers supply 57 percent of the guns used in crimes.
Most gun dealers are law abiding and responsible. More than eight out of ten supply no crime guns at all. They follow the law. They adhere to recommended industry practices. They use common sense to sniff out straw buyers, shills paid to buy guns for others. With vigilance, they don’t sell guns that are used in crimes.
But the small minority profit from the gun trade. They don’t make cursory checks. They ignore the obvious. They peddle large numbers of guns to straw purchasers. Profit is more important than public safety.
BATF’s data has been used by police chiefs to identify the gun dealers that are supplying the bulk of guns used in crimes. New York’s Mayor, Mike Bloomberg was one of those. used He used the police—many acting under cover—to make straw purchases and detail how the gun dealers violated the laws. Since he had no criminal jurisdiction, he brough civil suits against them. Several settled agreeing to accept court appointed monitors and to adhere to strict legal and industry requirements.
This freaked out the gun lobby. In rode, Rep. Tom Tiarht (R-Ks) happy to be of service. He attached a rider to the BATF appropriations that prohibits the agency from sharing gun data with police agencies or anyone else, unless specifically related to an individual crime. The rider’s only purpose was to shield the shady gun dealers. So much for tough on crime Republicans.
Tiarht claims that he is just trying to protect police, and to protect the rights of gun owners. He doesn’t mention the rights of those slain by guns. Thirty-two every day slain by a gun. Who gets killed? People tend to kill people that they know, or themselves. They get angry or depressed and a gun makes it easy. Add that to violent crime and you get a daily Virginia Tech across America.
Bloomberg helped organize mayors and police chiefs to oppose the Tiarht rider. They simply want the BATF to share the data that it has already collected with local police, so they can track the source of the guns that are involved in crimes. If they come from random places, nothing can be done. But if one or two shady dealers are the source, surely the entire society—including the NRA’s members, if not its rabid officers—have a stake in cracking down on those dealers.
George Bush keeps saying that September 11 changed everything. But it did not change the NRA’s offensive against common sense regulation of the sale of guns in this society. It didn’t change the president’s and the congress’ pandering to that gun lobby. They make it safe for terrorists to buy assault weapons—no longer banned—at shady dealers who don’t make the checks needed for public safety. For this crowd, September 11 requires cracking down on the cosmetics grandmothers take on airplanes, not cracking down on gun dealers pudding the guns used in crime.
This isn’t a partisan issue. Both Democrats and Republicans are terrorized by the gun lobby. It is a matter of common sense and courage—both of which seem to be in short supply in Washington.
Reverend Jackson n can be contacted by e-mail at