If we Americans want to have a detailed, informed discussion of our gun laws, we need to have some details and information. You know: what kind of guns are used in mass killings, what kind are used in drug crimes, how many have been stolen from dealers, things like that. Fortunately, that's all available to policy makers and think tanks alike, courtesy of the free-flowing information typical of a free society.
Oh, no, we're sorry. It's not.
And why not? Because of the so-called Tiarht Amendments, named for former Kansas congressman Todd Tiahrt, who has said, with admirable and untypical frankness, that he sponsored them because "I wanted to make sure I was fulfilling the needs of my friends who are firearms dealers."
For years now, when American city officials (like those in Jersey City) have written to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, asking for critical trace information about the guns sold in their municipality and used in crimes, they have received a polite letter saying, in effect, "Yes, we have that data on record -- but Congress will not let us give it to you."
The irony is that, now that Republicans in Congress are eager to investigate the alleged misdeeds of ATF in the "Fast and Furious" affair, their progress is blocked by the same rules. So too are investigators looking for the results of FBI background checks on gun purchasers, or asking dealers to actually make and report an inventory of their stock, to identify stolen weapons.
There has been some recent softening of the rules, allowing (for example) cities a little more access to ATF data, so long as they don't actually use it. But, for the most part, the Tiarht Amendments provide a significant stumbling block both to coordinated law enforcement efforts and to any public policy or journalistic research into the details of gun-related crimes.
These are terrible laws, and they should be repealed at once. We can't have a real discussion without facts, and the Tiarht Amendments are preventing the collection and dissemination of important facts.
The Tiahrt Amendments are opposed by mayors, police and the president. They are supported, we imagine, by gun dealers and their friends in Congress. Write your representative now to find out if he or she is one of them.