July 8, 2007
Here's a litmus test for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Stand up for the police, and the safety of the American public, by taking a stand against the gun lobby
The National Rifle Association is no trifle, to be sure. It has proven its might on Capitol Hill time and again, as both Republicans and Democrats have done its bidding. But what happened recently in the Senate Appropriations Committee was far more than just bowing to the NRA's clout. It was tantamount to a betrayal of the public and the police.
At issue was the Tiahrt amendment. Passed in 2003, it denies police departments and local governments access to gun tracing information compiled by the federal government. The purpose is to do the gun lobby's bidding by preventing local officials from using the federal data to track the movement of guns used to commit crimes, and identify ways to stop the flow of illegal weapons into their communities.
That's bad enough, but a new amendment by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., would require police to certify every time they seek access to the gun data compiled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that the information is for a specific criminal inquiry only. If the data are used for gun tracing purposes, the police officers could be sent to prison for up to five years.
The amendment, which cleared the committee in a 19-10 vote, also applies to mayors and other crime-fighting officials. But it seems to be specifically targeted at New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has made it a priority of his administration to stem the flow of illegal guns into his community. Either way, the amendment is offensive. To turn police officers and mayors into criminals if they dare attempt to control gun crimes makes a mockery of the rule of law.
Just as offensive is the bipartisan support this amendment received in the committee. All 14 Republican members give their support. They were joined by five Democrats.
Fortunately, Speaker Pelosi has pledged to revoke the Tiahrt amendment, so the Shelby amendment can expect stiff resistance in the House. And Sen. Reid can make it known that the Shelby amendment will not pass in his house.
Then again, it would be a mistake to underestimate the gun lobby's power on Capitol Hill. There should be a sustained public outcry to convince the House and Senate that passing the Shelby amendment would not only be wrong, but come at a high price to the members' political future.
THE ISSUE: A Senate panel votes to criminalize sharing of gun tracing data.
THE STAKES: The restrictions would make it harder to protect the public.