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January 26, 2009

Yes We Can Save Lives

Over the past several years, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence has proposed a series of positive steps that could/should be taken by the government to help reduce gun violence in America. For the past eight years, these proposals received either indifference or outright opposition by the Bush Administration. Thus, it was greatly heartening to see that—in its first week in office—the Obama Administration set forth several of our policy goals as part of its comprehensive Urban Policy Agenda.

The document in question reads as follows:

Address Gun Violence in Cities: Obama and Biden would repeal the Tiahrt Amendment, which restricts the ability of local law enforcement to access important gun trace information, and give police officers across the nation the tools they need to solve gun crimes and fight the illegal arms trade. Obama and Biden also favor commonsense measures that respect the Second Amendment rights of gun owners, while keeping guns away from children and from criminals. They support closing the gun show loophole and making guns in this country childproof. They also support making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent.”

As refreshing as it is to see these meaningful goals put forward so boldly, we must remember that they cannot be achieved without support on Capitol Hill. Now is the time for each of us to step forward and let our elected Members of Congress know that there is strong public support for these measures, and a new administration eager to sign them into law. So pick up that phone, write that email, or pay that long overdue in-person visit to convey your concerns.

Can we do it? Can we finally put common sense laws on the books that will frustrate criminals who attempt to obtain firearms? To borrow a phrase from a campaign that preached hope and grassroots action ... Yes we can!


  1. Tiahrt is the author of the Tiahrt Amendment, which prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) from releasing information from its firearms trace database to anyone other than a law enforcement agency or prosecutor in connection with a criminal investigation.

    What's wrong with that? So long as its a criminal investigation the police aren't restricted access to trace data. Why does anyone else need access to this?

  2. Funny you want to repeal the Tiahrt amendment while the ATF, Southern States Police Benevolent Association, and the Fraternal Order of Police oppose its repeal.


    If the Tiahrt bill is such a problem for the police, then why do the ATF and mainstream police groups support it?

  3. Thanks for your comment, Rudy. A good summary of why the Tiahrt Amendment impedes law enforcement investigations is contained in the report "Taking a Stand: Reducing Gun Violence in Our Communities" by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. It reads as follows:

    "The Tiahrt Amendment is contained in the federal legislation making appropriations for ATF. This is a provision that restricts the release of most information about guns traced to crime scenes contained in the agency’s Firearms Tracing System database.

    For many years, crime gun tracing data was made publicly available under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The information was routinely used by city officials and law enforcement agencies to identify patterns that help to determine the patterns and sources of illegally trafficked firearms and the types of guns most often traced to crime. Since 2004, the Tiahrt Amendment has prohibited ATF from releasing any data contained in the database, except on a case-by-case basis, to individual law enforcement agencies.

    Proponents of the restrictions claim that the release of tracing data could interfere with ongoing law enforcement investigations. However, prior to implementation of the Tiahrt Amendment, exemptions to the FOIA enabled ATF to withhold any information that could interfere with law enforcement investigations. The FOIA explicitly protects from disclosure any information that could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings or disclose the identity of a confidential source, or that could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual.

    The restrictions imposed by the Tiahrt Amendment should be repealed and the data contained in the Firearms Tracing System database should be released under the FOIA. The Tiahrt Amendment’s restriction on the release of crime gun trace data serves only to withhold information that was historically available to law enforcement, policymakers, and the public under the FOIA.

    These restrictions also appear to severely limit the ability of local law enforcement agencies to conduct critical investigations designed to identify and apprehend corrupt firearms dealers and the traffickers they supply. Law enforcement should work with policy makers and ATF to ensure they have access to the data they need to prevent, interdict and investigate gun crime." - CSGV

  4. Thanks for your comment, thestaplegunkid9. While a few law enforcement organizations support the Tiahrt Amendment, far more oppose it. Here is a list of national law enforcement organizations that want to see the Tiahrt Amendment repealed:

    National Sheriffs' Association
    International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP)
    International Brotherhood of Police Officers (IBPO)
    Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA)
    Police Executive Research Foundation (PERF)
    Police Foundation
    Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association (HAPCOA)
    National Latino Peace Officers Association (NLPOA)
    National Black Police Association (NBPA)
    National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE)
    School Safety Advocacy Council

    In addition, over 20 state law enforcement organizations have called for the Tiahrt Amendment to be repealed, as have more than 340 mayors from across the country.

    Finally, what evidence do you have that the ATF under the Obama administration supports the Tiahrt Amendment? The statements that have come out of the administration and its nominees for the Justice Department have indicated exactly the opposite. - CSGV

  5. http://www.house.gov/apps/list/press/ks04_tiahrt/2007/MAIGResponse.html

    "At issue is a campaign urging repeal of the Tiahrt Amendment, which prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from releasing gun trace data to the public. The ATF gun trace database contains investigation-specific information and is made available to law enforcement agencies and prosecutors for criminal investigations. The ATF and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the nation’s largest law enforcement organization, support the Tiahrt Amendment and have requested its reauthorization every year since 2003. Both organizations claim repeal of the Tiahrt Amendment would jeopardize ongoing criminal investigations and risk the lives of undercover law enforcement officers."

    Such concerns cannot be dismissed as belonging to an insignificant "few" law enforcement groups. The ATF is the organization that publishes the data, and thus is in the best position to know if making it public is a good idea. The FOP is the largest police union in the nation representing rank and file officers.

    Do you have any evidence that the ATF has changed their position on the Tiahrt amendment since Obama was elected? If so, let's see it.

  6. Thanks for your comment, thestaplegunkid9. The document you have hyperlinked is a release from the sponsor of the Tiahrt Amendment, Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS). In 2003, Tiahrt explained the Amendment by stating, “I wanted to make sure I was fulfilling the needs of my friends who are firearms dealers. NRA officials were helpful in making sure I had my bases covered” (Juliet Eilperin, “Firearms Measure Surprises Some in GOP,” Washington Post, 7/21/03, p. A19).

    ATF, of course, released detailed reports containing aggregate crime gun trace data throughout the eight years of the Clinton Administration (prior to the enactment of the Tiahrt Amendment). During the Bush Administration, the ATF was unable to produce a single example to show that the release of such data had jeopardized ongoing criminal investigations and risked the lives of undercover law enforcement officers.

    Early during the Bush Administration, the city of Chicago was engaged in a lawsuit against the ATF for release of crime gun trace data under the Freedom of Information Act. The ATF argued that the release of the data “could reasonably interfere with enforcement proceedings,” despite the fact that the FOIA explicitly protects from disclosure any information that could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings or disclose the identity of a confidential source, or that could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual.

    In a 2002 ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found that ATF’s arguments in the Chicago case were “based solely on speculation.” The court further stated, “ATF has provided us with only farfetched hypothetical scenarios; without a more substantial, realistic risk of interference, we cannot allow ATF to rely on this FOIA exemption to withhold these requested records.” In particular, the Court found that the data “reveals nothing about any potential or ongoing investigation,” and “it is highly improbable that any revelation of this information could endanger an investigation.” The Court ruled that ATF was required to produce all the data requested.

    Shortly thereafter, Rep. Tiahrt introduced the Tiahrt Amendment at the behest of the National Rifle Association, overriding the determination of the courts.

    As for evidence that the Obama Administration’s policy on the Tiahrt Amendment will differ markedly from the Bush Administration’s policy, we have already produced it, and it is cited in this blog. The Obama Administration has stated directly that its intention is to repeal the Tiahrt Amendment. Their nominee for Attorney General, Eric Holder, is a strong advocate for measures to crack down on illegal gun trafficking. Furthermore, the Acting Director of the ATF who had voiced support for the Tiahrt Amendment, Mike Sullivan, resigned on January 13, one week before President Obama took office. The Obama Administration has acted expeditiously to overturn Bush Administration policies in a number of critical areas, and a stated priority has been to address the politicization of the Justice Department under the Bush Administration. - CSGV