Anti-Gun Mayors Push for Gun Trace Information

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

( - Mayors Against Illegal Guns -- a group organized last year by the mayors of New York and Boston -- said it plans to run television ads, starting with the Sunday morning political shows, seeking repeal of the "Tiahrt Amendment."

In the advertisement, Chaska, Minn., Police Chief Scott Knight describes how the Tiahrt Amendment "prevents him from being able to effectively address gun crime," a new release said.

The amendment (actually, a series of riders to appropriations bills funding the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) is named after its sponsor, Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.). The measure restricts cities' access to gun trace data collected by the BATFE.

Second Amendment supporters say the amendment prevents anti-gun groups from using gun trace data in "frivilous" civil lawsuits against the firearms industry.

But the mayors argue that gun-trace data is an essential crime-fighting tool.

"Our efforts have nothing to do with the Second Amendment or the rights of lawful gun owners," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a press release on Wednesday.

"This is about enforcing the law and keeping guns out of the hands of criminals. We can only do that if we have the best tools to combat illegal gun trafficking, and the most important of those is the gun trace data that the Tiahrt Amendment restricts."

Newark Mayor Cory Booker argued that the Tiahrt Amendment insulates illegal gun retailers.

"We are facing a crisis of illegal guns in our communities where more than 30,000 Americans lose their lives to gun violence every year," Booker said. "We have an obligation to stem the flow of illegal weapons to our cities, and that starts with the ability of law enforcement to trace these illegal weapons to their source.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns believes there is growing support in Congress for repealing the Tiahrt Amendment.

Toward that end, Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) introduced a bill repealing the Tiahrt Amendment during the last Congress and he is expected to re-introduce the bill next week, the mayors' group said.

A group of U.S. senators last week signed a letter supporting repeal.

Sensitive information

But the National Rifle Association says there are good reasons for keeping gun trace information confidential.

First of all, the NRA argues, the BATFE gun-trace system was not designed to collect statistics. BATFE compiles such records only when law enforcement agencies request that a gun be traced.

The NRA also noted that traced guns are not always "crime" guns.

Moreover, the Fiscal Year 2007 version of the Tiahrt amendment ensures that trace data is available to federal, state, and local agencies "in connection with and for use in a bona fide criminal investigation or prosecution," the NRA said on its website.

The NRA also noted that BATFE has fought for years in the federal courts to keep the databases confidential, because they contain information (such as names of gun buyers) that could jeopardize ongoing investigations as well as law enforcement officers' lives.

Rather than repeal the Tiahrt Amendment, strengthen it and make it permanent, the NRA says.

The Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA) also argues that the Tiahrt Amendment does not block "legitimate access" to federal gun trace data. Rather, it prevents "fishing expedition access" to the information.

"[Mayor] Bloomberg''s sole interest in broadening access to that data is so that he and other anti-gun politicians can use it to mount more bogus gun shop stings and bully firearms retailers with harassment lawsuits," said CCRKBA Chairman Alan Gottlieb.

"The federal statute was adopted specifically to protect the privacy of American gun owners from politicians like Bloomberg, and to prevent the kind of grandstanding he launched last year with his vigilante operation against gun shops in five states."

"This isn''t about stopping gun crimes, it''s about invading the privacy of law-abiding citizens," Gottlieb stated.

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