Federal bill weakens public safety
Among the many troubling aspects of the recently passed Omnibus Appropriations Bill are provisions in Division B of the Act that will undermine law enforcement efforts to enforce gun laws and prevent crime.
Initially introduced as the “Tiahrt Amendment” after Representative Todd Tiahrt (R-Kansas), these provisions will weaken the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ ability to prosecute corrupt gun sellers and make it easier for dangerous criminals and other inappropriate persons to acquire firearms.
Those concerned about the level of firearm violence in our country, including the members of the Nevada County Chapter of the Million Mom March, are extremely disappointed in Rep. John Doolittle and Sen. Diane Feinstein for voting in favor of this appropriations bill.
Specifically, the new Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2004 will seriously hamper the effectiveness of the Brady Act. The Brady Act, which calls for background checks on firearm buyers, has prevented more than a million prohibited purchases of guns, thereby working to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, stalkers, the mentally ill, and even terrorists.
Since the Brady Act was passed in 1994, the Department of Justice has maintained background check records on firearm sales for up to 90 days to ensure proper auditing and correction of incorrectly allowed purchases. The new Appropriations Act requires these background check records to be destroyed within 24 hours, thus making it impossible for the DOJ to correct errors.
In a 2002 study, the General Accounting Office reported that 97 percent of firearm retrieval actions by the FBI in the first six months after the 90-day retention policy was initiated could not have happened under this new provision.
In testimony before Congress, the FBI Agents Association stated, “The more the retention period is reduced, the more difficult it would become to use the paperwork to investigate or prosecute crimes related to the use of sales of the firearms in question. Any such effort can only complicate the already difficult task of law enforcement and jeopardize public safety.”
The International Association of Chiefs of Police believes that “decreasing the amount of time the purchase records are kept will weaken the background check system and allow more criminals to illegally obtain weapons. In addition, it is important to note that there have been no allegations that any information retained in the records has been misused.”
Another provision of the Appropriations Act will block ATF from requiring gun dealers to take regular inventories of their firearms. Bull’s Eye Shooter Supply, the source for the gun used in the Washington, D.C., area sniper attacks, had no record of selling the gun and was found to be “missing” 238 firearms from its inventory during the previous three years. A missing firearm, which is either stolen or illegally sold, cannot be traced and is frequently found in inappropriate hands.
Currently, inventory errors by federal firearms dealers are occurring at a high rate, and this new provision will severely limit ATF’s ability to address this serious problem.
A third provision will shield the most corrupt firearm dealers from public scrutiny. ATF studies have determined that most crime guns are traced to a tiny subset of the federally licensed firearm dealers in our country. “Trafficking indicators,” such as volume of crime guns traced to a firearms dealer, short time-to-crime guns traced to a dealer, or frequently reported firearms loss or theft by a dealer, lead to the relatively few reckless firearm dealers. Under the new act, this information will no longer be available to the public through the Freedom of Information Act.
Unbelievably, another provision will require ATF to disavow the conclusions of numerous studies it has published. Any new tracing study the ATF publishes will be required to include elaborate disclaimers that would contradict statements the agency has previously made and believes to be true.
The current administration and our congressional leaders purport to have the safety and security of American citizens as among their highest priorities. Yet efforts to address the almost 30,000 annual gun deaths are being gutted by the anti-law enforcement provisions in this new appropriations act.
Our leaders should be looking for ways to strengthen, not weaken, law enforcement tools that may curb firearm violence in our country. In 1999, the total gun deaths in America were equivalent to one person dying from gunfire every 18 minutes. This is unacceptable in a civilized society and we must demand that our leaders enact sensible gun laws and provide the needed resources to enforce current and future laws.
Amanda Wilcox is president of the Nevada County Chapter of the Million Mom March. Her daughter, Laura, was killed in the Jan. 10, 2001 shooting rampage.
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