Ads aim at gun data
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is digging into his own wallet to help launch an ad campaign designed to pressure Congress to reject a provision that prevents local law enforcement officials from accessing certain gun trace data available to federal authorities. For the past five years, Congress has approved the provision, but Bloomberg and nearly 200 mayors argue it puts local law enforcement at risk.
The Tiahrt Amendment — named for the sponsor of the provision, Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan. — restricts local officials from accessing and using U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) trace data from guns recovered in crimes. Tiahrt Amendment supporters say it prevents the release of certain information needed for federal investigations. “This amendment [allows] the ATF to protect information and maintains the integrity of information,” says Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police. “A critical element of criminal investigations is the integrity of the information. You don’t want suspects to know what you know, or witnesses to be at risk.”
Still, Bloomberg and other local leaders maintain the provision hampers local law enforcement efforts. “The best tool that police have to protect our residents — and themselves — from illegal guns is trace data,” Bloomberg said in a prepared statement to American City & County. “Every time a gun is used in a crime, police officers can trace its serial number to find out who bought it, when they bought it and where they bought it. But by continuing to pass this amendment, which prevents the police from fully utilizing one of their best investigative tools, Congress is effectively putting our police officers directly in the line of fire.”
By accessing the information, local agencies could identify where illegal guns are being sold in their communities, amendment opponents say. “It would be valuable to be able to trace these illegal guns,” says Dave Lieberth, chief of staff and deputy mayor for Akron, Ohio, Mayor Donald Plusquellic. “Unfortunately, because the Tiahrt Amendment created a situation where police cannot get those data from the ATF, they cannot identify those dealers en masse who are selling illegal guns.”
In mid-April, Bloomberg appeared alongside Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory to announce the television ad campaign and a Web site devoted to convincing Congress to reject the amendment. At the event, Bloomberg announced that 14 mayors from Ohio and Kentucky had joined his Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition. The television ads will air in Washington and jurisdictions represented by members of the House and Senate subcommittees that will initially address the issue, which is attached to the Department of Justice appropriations bill.
The amendment’s first hurdle will be at the subcommittee level, where it is likely to face stiff opposition, says Jim Kessler, vice president of Third Way, a Washington-based organization that promotes conservative Democratic policies. He notes that Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who chairs the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies subcommittee, “is hostile to the amendment, so she would not put it in. It’s a little bit of an easier task trying to keep something out [of a bill] rather than put something in,” he says.
The author is the Washington correspondent for American City & County.