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Political Report: Congress and The Tiahrt Amendment

Saturday, August 4, 2007


CHRIS COX, NRA-ILA Executive Director

One truth remains solidly at the center of our commitment--and that truth is that the work of protecting our Second Amendment rights and our cherished hunting heritage will never end.

t's taken six months, but Congress is finally turning its attention to the Second Amendment debate. By the time you read this article, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee will have decided whether to renew the so-called Tiahrt Amendment.

Loyal readers know that the Tiahrt Amendment--named after its sponsor, Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan.-- is a key safeguard of the privacy rights of gun purchasers. It prevents the release of firearm purchase records to anyone but law enforcement agencies conducting a bona fide criminal investigation.

Boy, that made Bloomberg mad.

So we'll push for similar laws in more states next year.

In practical effect, it protects the integrity of investigations and the safety of undercover officers and informants. It also prevents abuse of a law enforcement system that the Congressional Research Service has repeatedly pointed out, "was not designed to collect statistics." It prohibits lawsuit-happy mayors from poking around in sensitive gun purchase records. Information from that kind of snooping before enactment of the Tiahrt Amendment has been used ever since to justify baseless lawsuits blaming third parties for the actions of criminals.

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has made it a personal crusade to eliminate the protections of the Tiahrt language. He has enlisted mayors from big cities across the nation to help him, with the clear goal of unleashing a flood of new, bogus lawsuits. In these suits, Bloomberg is not only trying to sue manufacturers, but individual dealers and perhaps individual customers as well. His strategy is carefully crafted to evade the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, signed into federal law in October 2005 to prohibit these kinds of lawsuits.

It's the worst kept secret in town that Bloomberg is positioning himself for a self-funded, independent presidential bid in 2008. The mystery lies in his own political calculation that targeting the Second Amend-ment is a viable strategy for national political popularity. There are hundreds of politicians who have lost elections on this issue--both Republicans and Democrats--who might give him advice to the contrary.

I can't tell you how the votes on the Tiahrt Amendment will come out; they haven't yet occurred as of press time. But in the final analysis, the answer to Bloomberg's demands will rest in the hands of the Congress. If enough of the new Congress buys into the big Bloomberg lie, we will have our work cut out for us--from this fall straight into the 2008 election season.

The real action this year has been in the 50 state capitals. The state of Virginia responded directly to Bloomberg's campaign this year, passing a law that prohibits amateur "sting" operations against the commonwealth's firearm dealers. Boy, that made Bloomberg mad. So we'll push for similar laws in more states next year.

But in other states, the debate has been more focused on protecting the right of self-defense. This year alone, we've passed nine new laws to improve or expand state Right-to-Carry laws. These changes are often rather technical, but among the highlights, we see many states questioning the "gun free" zones established in their original Right-to-Carry laws. In four additional states this year, we've passed "Castle Doctrine" laws, which codify the right to self-defense against criminal attack wherever a law-abiding citizen has a right to be.

Several states are also moving to protect the confidentiality of permit databases in response to the wildly inappropriate publication of permit holders' names and addresses by media busybodies.

On another front, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre has been telling his audiences to "remember New Orleans!" ILA has certainly not forgotten the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when renegade city officials issued orders for the confiscation of lawfully owned firearms. Thousands of gun owners were victimized by these illegal gun seizures (see feature, p. 26).

Now, that can't happen in 19 states. And that's just a start. We will not rest until gun owners' rights are protected during states of emergency in all 50 states.

We haven't forgotten about the needs of hunters, either. We're passing youth mentoring laws so hunters can pass their conservation ethic down to the next generation. We're passing "No-Net-Loss" laws to guarantee that hunting lands cannot be diminished by the endless creep of urban sprawl. We're eliminating arbitrary restrictions that can trip up hunters, but that do nothing to conserve wildlife or protect habitat. Also, this year we passed the landmark Hunting Heritage Protection Act in Missouri. This landmark conservation measure protects the central flyway for migrating waterfowl by prohibiting development in all 100-year flood plains along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and by restricting localities from passing measures to interfere with lawful hunting.

It's been a good year for gun owners and hunters in the 50 state capitals. The outlook in Congress should become clear in the weeks ahead. But one truth remains solidly at the center of our commitment--and that truth is that the work of protecting our Second Amendment rights and our cherished hunting heritage will never end.

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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.