March 21st, 2013
Chris W. Cox
Editorial in USA Today
Gun control advocates complain that Congress stopped the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from making firearms dealers conduct costly annual inventories to keep their records straight. But ATF already has the power to investigate records and inventories in a number of common-sense circumstances, such as a criminal investigation or when there is a suspected violation.
Common sense tells us that placing additional burdens on law abiding gun retailers will do nothing to reduce crime, but placing the full weight of our criminal justice system on lawbreakers will.
Gun control supporters are also complaining that Congress has stopped ATF from disseminating sensitive law enforcement information far beyond the agencies that actually need it.
The prohibition (known as the "Tiahrt Amendment") was enacted nearly a decade ago. It was a response to efforts by cities and gun-ban groups that wanted to use confidential information from ATF's firearm tracing system as evidence in lawsuits against the firearms industry and in shaky statistical "studies."
Both were illegitimate because, as the Congressional Research Service has pointed out, the "tracing system is an operational system designed to help law enforcement agencies identify the ownership path of individual firearms. It was not designed to collect statistics."
Worse yet, releasing this information could have jeopardized ongoing criminal investigations — and endangered the lives of police officers, witnesses and informants. That's why trace databases had never been publicly released, and why the ATF itself fought in court to keep it that way.
And that's why the Tiahrt Amendment won the support of America's largest rank-and-file police organization, the Fraternal Order of Police. In 2007, FOP president Chuck Canterbury noted that as many as four cases were compromised and an additional 14 put at risk when private investigators employed by New York City conducted "sting" operations in support of the city's civil suit against several gun stores that had been identified through firearms trace data. "As a result, several gun trafficking suspects under investigation by law enforcement changed their behavior to avoid scrutiny and criminal indictment," Canterbury said.
Even the Obama administration has been on board. In 2009, the provision was amended — with a proposal put forward in the president's budget and praised by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — to strengthen protections against data release outside law enforcement, while allowing more information sharing among agencies.
Congress has acted responsibly to protect sensitive law enforcement information, while facilitating legitimate investigative activities. To argue otherwise is irresponsible.