Wednesday, October 1, 2008

More "common sense" anti-gun rhetoric, post-Heller

Opinion piece in the National Law Journal arguing that while the Supreme Court's Heller decision took gun bans off the gun-grabber menu, that "[l]ittle, if anything else, is."
What we've needed, for a long time, is common-sense steps to prevent the illegal trafficking and diversion of guns to people everybody agrees shouldn't have them. Here's where the fringe gun-grabbing arguments -- on both sides -- have made common sense impossible. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is forbidden by law from computerizing its firearms records, on the argument that they could become a de facto registration system, which could then be used to inform gun confiscation. The famed "gun show loophole" is a myth. The reality is far worse: Federal gun law only applies to "dealers," who become dealers by voluntarily announcing themselves to ATF. Everybody else can legally sell guns without any of the federal requirements, at gun shows or anywhere else. Amendments filed by Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., with NRA backing, forbade ATF from publishing reports on crime-gun traces that indicated local and national patterns of trafficking and diversion, and prevented police departments from sharing this information. Jersey City, N.J., was refused data from crime guns it had submitted itself to ATF for tracing. (No, I'm not making this up.)

It would be very simple to make a huge difference here. Let ATF do its job. Eliminate the unregulated "secondary" market. Mandate that stolen guns be reported to the police. Register handguns, the most important component of gun violence. Mandate criminal background checks for gun-store employees. Reinstitute the national crime-gun tracing program the Bush administration shut down. Make penalties for trafficking guns commensurate with, at least, those for trafficking drugs. These are simple, common-ground steps that would really matter. We've been distracted from such common-sense moves by the far more dramatic culture war over guns. But that, as of last term, is over and done with.

Read the op-ed here. The author mentions the Tiahrt Amendment, and seems to imply that the amendment is a hindrance to legitimate law enforcement activities. Of course, the Tiahrt Amendment is supported by the DOJ and ATF, and by police groups such as the Fraternal Order of Police, and Michael Sullivan, the acting head of the ATF has publicly stated:
Let me be clear: neither the congressional language nor ATF rules prohibit the sharing of trace data with law enforcement conducting criminal investigations, or place any restrictions on the sharing of trace data with other jurisdictions once it is in the hands of state or local law enforcement. In fact, multi-jurisdictional trace data is also utilized by ATF and shared with fellow law-enforcement agencies to identify firearm-trafficking trends and leads. Additionally, nothing prohibits ATF from releasing our own reports that analyze trace-data trends that could be used by law enforcement.

So the amendment doesn't restrict legitimate law enforcement activities, but does restrict the use of trace data for non-law enforcement purposes, such as lawsuits by anti-gun big-city mayors. Also, note that trace data by itself is not necessarily evidence of any crime. For example, a stolen gun might get traced back to the gunstore that originally sold the gun to a legal buyer. The fact that the gun was later stolen from that legal buyer and used in a crime doesn't mean the gunstore did anything wrong.

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