Local Commentary

Jim Moran

Every year, 30,000 Americans are killed as a result of gun violence, destroying families and harming communities. Guns are all too prevalent in our society. Currently, an estimated 39% of American households own a gun. As the tragedy at Virginia Tech showed us, when they end up in the wrong hands the impact can be devastating.

Unfortunately, the tide has not been going in the direction of gun safety advocates in recent years. In that time, the gun lobby has effectively held a vice grip on Congress, leading to the elimination of key gun laws, like the Assault Weapons Ban, which were enacted in an effort to keep the public safe.

The latest victim in the gun safety debate is law enforcements’ ability to access to gun trace data i.e. data that allows officers to track where an illegal gun used in a crime was purchased. Originally inserted in the FY’04 Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations (CJS) bill, the so-called “Tiahrt Amendment” (named for its author Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS)) prevents law enforcement from accessing data on guns that have been used in crimes outside of their geographic jurisdiction; information previously available under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Because 35% of guns used in a crime were bought in one state but used in another to commit a crime, critical investigations are being crippled. Tiahrt also prevents the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency (ATF) from releasing aggregate trace data reports, preventing law enforcement, public health professionals and others from accessing these vital public safety statistics.

Fortunately, efforts to repeal the Tiahrt Amendment are under way. A new coalition dedicated to this cause sprung up in the past year, founded by Mayors Mike Bloomberg of New York and Tom Mennino of Boston. Together, the two mayors have united some 225 heads of local government to form the “Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition.”

On Tuesday, I attended a press conference sponsored by the Mayors outside of the Capitol to speak out in favor of repealing Tiahrt. Their timing couldn’t be better. The Appropriations Committee, on which I sit, is scheduled to consider the CJS legislation under which Tiahrt resides on Thursday. During mark-up of the bill, I plan to introduce an amendment to fully repeal the Tiahrt amendment.

It promises to be a tough vote, one in which the side of gun safety may lose. But like many legislative battles, it is a step towards the end goal. Putting members on record where they stand on the issue will help highlight where supporters should focus their grassroots efforts.

When one percent of gun stores in the U.S. sell weapons that can be traced back to nearly 60 percent of gun crimes committed in the U.S. we have a serious problem. The gun lobby is putting the interests of a select few members ahead of the safety of the American public. With the high-profile mayors now on the issue, I expect the Tiahrt amendments days are numbered.