The Tiahrt Amendments, named for their original sponsor, U.S. Representative Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), are provisions attached to federal spending bills that make it harder for law enforcement officers to aggressively pursue criminals who buy and sell illegal guns. Since it was formed in 2006, Mayors Against Illegal Guns has been fighting to reform the Tiahrt Amendments.
In 2007, hundreds of mayors joined with 30 national and state law enforcement organizations to wage a campaign against the Tiahrt restrictions. The campaign's efforts helped to defeat proposals that would have made the restrictions even worse, and also secured certain improvements to the Tiahrt amendments in the FY 2008 appropriations bill. In 2009, mayors and police chiefs successfully pushed revisions to the Tiahrt language in the FY 2010 appropriations bill, which restored full access to crime gun trace data for state and local law enforcement.
Read the May 7, 2009 Statement of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Co-Chairs on the Tiahrt reforms in the FY 2010 appropriations bill
While the changes made in 2007 and 2009 are a step in the right direction, many of the anti-police provisions in the Amendments remain in place. For example, the Tiahrt provisions still block ATF from requiring gun dealers to conduct inventory checks to detect loss and theft, which law enforcement says is a dangerous back channel source for criminals who are in the market for illegal guns.
How Tiahrt Harms Law Enforcement
While some components of the Tiahrt Amendments were improved in 2007 and 2009, several damaging provisions continue to tie the hands of law enforcement.
- NICS background check records are still destroyed within 24 hours:
The Tiahrt Amendments require the Justice Department to destroy the record of a buyer whose NICS background check was approved within 24 hours. This makes it harder to catch law-breaking gun dealers who falsify their records, and it makes it more difficult to identify and track straw purchasers who buy guns on behalf of criminals who wouldn't be able to pass a background check.
- ATF still does not have the power to require dealer inventory checks to detect lost and stolen guns:
While dealers must notify ATF if they discover that guns from their inventories have been lost or stolen, the Tiahrt Amendments prevent ATF from requiring gun dealers to conduct annual physical inventory checks to detect losses and thefts. ATF reported that in 2007 it found 30,000 guns missing from dealer inventories based on its inspection of just 9.3% of gun dealers.
- State and local authorities are still restricted from using trace data to fully investigate corrupt gun dealers and traffickers:
While the FY 2010 appropriations language restores full access to crime gun trace data for state and local law enforcement, the Tiahrt Amendments continue to restrict what state and local law enforcement can do with trace data they have gathered. For example, state and local law enforcement are still prohibited from using trace data in civil proceedings to suspend or revoke the license of a gun dealer who was caught breaking the law.
The Campaign Against the Tiahrt Amendments
The coalition's campaign against the Tiahrt Amendments has secured incremental but important improvements to the Tiahrt Amendment restrictions.
Key FY 2010 Improvements to the Tiahrt Amendments
- Full Police Access to Crime Gun Trace Data:
The FY 2010 budget removes the restriction that limits access to federal crime gun trace data to state and local police investigations of individual crimes. That restriction prevents them from investigating the broader criminal networks that may be behind those crimes. The new language enables state and local law enforcement to have full access to ATF's gun trace database to analyze gun trafficking patterns.
- Prior to this change, state and local law enforcement could only access crime gun trace data in connection with an individual investigation.
Key FY 2008 Improvements to the Tiahrt Amendments
- Freedom to Share Data Between Agencies:
Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors are now explicitly authorized to share with each other any trace data they acquire connected to their criminal investigations.
- Prior to this change, it was unclear whether law enforcement agencies were permitted to share gun trace data with each other.
- Authorization to Release Limited Public Reports:
ATF is now allowed to release limited statistical reports using aggregate gun trace data to analyze firearm trafficking. The scope of these reports, however, remains significantly less extensive than reports published prior to the enactment of the Tiahrt Amendments.
- Prior to this change, ATF was prohibited from
releasing reports using trace data to examine illegal gun trafficking
- ATF released reports in late 2007 and 2008 that,
for each state, listed which other states were the top sources of guns
recovered by law enforcement. These reports provided no information about
which dealers were top sources of interstate crime guns.
- View the ATF reports
Read Mayors Against Illegal Guns' May 7, 2009 statement on the improvements to the FY10 version of the Tiahrt Amendment
Read Mayors Against Illegal Guns' December 21, 2007 statement on the improvements to FY08 version of the Tiahrt Amendment
Recent Tiahrt Amendment Press
"Guest column: Vote not to tie cops' hands in fight against illegal guns" Jacksonville.com, April 15, 2009
"Two Early Tests on Guns" The New York Times, February 19, 2009
Read more editorials about the Tiahrt Amendments
Other Resources Related to the Tiahrt Amendment
Download a copy of the letter from law enforcement organizations and executives opposing the Tiahrt Amendment restrictions (in PDF)
Read the text of the FY08 Tiahrt Amendment
Read the text of the FY10 Tiahrt Amendment
Watch President Obama's Campaign Statement on the Tiahrt Trace Restrictions
Learn more about the legislative history of the Tiahrt Amendment