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Political Report: AHSA and the Tiarht Amendment

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

POLITICAL REPORT

CHRIS COX, NRA-ILA Executive Director

"Firearms trace data is collected by ATF for public safety, not for civil litigation. We urge members of Congress to continue to support the Tiahrt Amendment. Let's send the bad guys to jail, not civil court."

--Chuck Canterbury, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police

here we were in St. Louis, in the midst of NRA's largest Annual Meetings ever, celebrating our freedoms with 60,000 of our closest friends and fellow NRA members. And who should show up to try and steal some spotlight but the poseurs at the American Hunters and Shooters Association (AHSA).

Led by gun-ban lobbyist Robert Ricker and high-dollar underwriter of gun control groups and politicians Ray Schoenke, AHSA was hoping that the thin camouflage of their deceptive name would be enough to blend in. Their goal was to hold a press conference and fool the media into parroting their anti-gun agenda. That agenda, in turn, came straight from anti-gun luminary Mike Bloomberg, mayor of New York City and self-appointed Gun Policy Czar for the nation.

Who is protecting the nation's law enforcement officers? Let's go right to the best possible source and ask them.

Bloomberg itches to file a landslide of new lawsuits against the gun industry, but Congress has intentionally put obstacles in his way. Undeterred by the will of the people and the law of the land, Bloomberg is hell-bent to repeal the laws that stand in his way. His current obsession is pushing for repeal of the Tiahrt Amendment. Loyal readers know that this amendment, which must be passed annually, protects the privacy of everyone who buys guns at retail. It limits the disclosure of firearm trace data to law enforcement agencies working on a bona fide criminal investigation. It specifically prohibits the information from being released to lawsuit-happy mayors who are on fishing expeditions to blame their urban crime problem on the nation's law-abiding gun dealers and buyers.

Having met with resistance from congressmen who understand that the mayor of New York City doesn't run the country, Bloomberg financed the construction of a crude website to paint his campaign in the blue of law and order. The website features videos and tv ads of assorted length, all featuring one Scott Knight, the chief of police in Chaska, Minn. In the videos, Knight convincingly reads the script he's been given and demands that Congress strip the Tiahrt Amendment from this year's spending bill. Bloomberg has vowed to run the ads in the districts of key lawmakers.

What makes Chief Knight such an authority on national gun policy? Well, apparently he's a friend of AHSA's Ray Schoenke. And he has a police uniform. That's instant credibility in the video age.

But what are the real views of law enforcement groups and agencies--not individuals who are old buddies of gun control supporters--on the Tiahrt Amendment?

Chuck Canterbury, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), answered that question in a recent newspaper commentary. Canterbury wrote that, "Some of America's mayors, led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City and Thomas M. Menino of Boston, would like you to believe that their Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition is about fighting illegal firearms in their cities and across the country. It's not."

These are strong words from FOP head Canterbury, but he goes on to back them up by writing in the April 24 Wichita Eagle,

"The principal goal of this coalition is the repeal of language that has repeatedly been passed into law for the past several years that prevents information on gun traces collected by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from being given to mayors pursuing civil litigation suits against firearm dealers and manufacturers."

Canterbury points out that officers working gun trafficking cases "know that releasing sensitive information about pending cases can jeopardize the integrity of an investigation or even place the lives of undercover officers in danger." That's why, he says, the FOP "has always supported language protecting firearms trace data, now known as the Tiahrt Amendment."

Canterbury also notes that ATF "has repeatedly gone to court to fight the release of its data, because the release can have a negative effect on its efforts to investigate illegal gun trafficking and threaten the safety of officers and witnesses."

Acting ATF Director Michael J. Sullivan also recently addressed the tracing data issue. He writes in an April 30 Scripps-Howard News Service commentary that his agency "considers this information law enforcement-sensitive, because it is often the first investigative lead in a case. We treat it no differently than fingerprint matches and other crime-scene information, since disclosure outside of law enforcement can tip off criminals to the investigation, compromise cases and endanger the lives of undercover officers, witnesses and confidential sources."

Congress, Sullivan notes, "has recognized ATF's crucial role in that investigative process and has protected our ability to share that sensitive data with law enforcement. The restriction did nothing more than to codify ATF's longstanding policy of sharing trace data with other law enforcement agencies for the purpose of conducting a criminal investigation."

Canterbury summarized the FOP position: "Firearms trace data is collected by ATF for public safety, not for civil litigation. We urge members of Congress to continue to support the Tiahrt Amendment. Let's send the bad guys to jail, not civil court."

Bloomberg ignores all of this reason in his continued push to repeal Tiahrt's privacy protections. But other states have not. This year, Virginia passed a law prohibiting bogus "stings" of gun dealers by hired gumshoes, and the state's attorney general recently sent Bloomberg a letter warning that his henchmen would face felony charges if they returned to the commonwealth.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg's tv ads have met with similar resistance. The ads are intended to put pressure on key legislators, including Rep. Tiahrt himself, and are funded out of Bloomberg's pockets. But tv stations have refused outright to run them, with one station manager noting he could not "verify its claims." Bloomberg spluttered in outrage on his radio show, saying "You can't censor this kind of ad if you don't agree with the opinion," but the truth is that broadcasters can and do refuse to air ads that make false claims. "We are doing what responsible broadcasters do," Laverne E. Goering, kwch director of programming, told the Associated Press.

Let's tally up. Major law enforcement groups have said that Bloomberg is wrong about the Tiahrt Amendment--including the very agency, ATF, that the amendment regulates. tv stations have refused to run his ads because their false claims cannot be verified.

But the people who will eventually decide the fate of the Tiahrt Amendment are the 535 members of Congress. Will they listen to Bloomberg and believe his lies? Or will they listen to law enforcement and law-abiding citizens and renew the Tiahrt Amendment again this year? That's up to you and me.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.