Don’t Use the Budget to Set Bad Gun Policies | Commentary
In its first vote on guns since the mass shooting in Charleston, S.C., the House Appropriations Committee retained a long-standing ban on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funding for research on gun violence.
Of course, this wasn’t the first time the House used the budget process to do the National Rifle Association’s bidding. Twice this month, the House tried to handcuff the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as the agency works to prevent criminals from getting guns.
First, the House blocked an ATF proposal to close a loophole that allows criminals to buy or possess machine guns.
That’s right — machine guns. The loophole allows people to get them after they’ve formed a business entity such as a trust, through which they can avoid both the standard gun-sale background check and the required certification from local law enforcement. With “gun trust” applications skyrocketing — from fewer than 1,000 in 2000 to more than 40,000 in 2012 — the ATF is logically seeking to make the rules for buying and possessing machine guns the same for trusts as they are for individuals.
The House used a budget bill to block the ATF’s gun trust proposal — and it didn’t stop there. The House also moved to shut down an existing, effective ATF security program — one that’s helping break up gun-trafficking rings and better police the U.S.-Mexico border.
It’s called the “long-gun reporting program.” It’s modeled on a common-sense requirement, in place for 20 years, which requires licensed gun dealers to notify the ATF when someone buys multiple handguns within five business days. Such high-volume sales are typically associated with gun trafficking — not with self-protection, hunting, collecting or any other form of law-abiding gun ownership.
For two decades, the multiple-sales reporting requirement has produced “timely, actionable investigative leads” and helped the ATF identify and prosecute gun traffickers. Shotguns and rifles (or, “long guns”) were not subject to the reporting requirement until recently, when the ATF began requiring reports for certain powerful long guns bought from dealers in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas.
Why might the ATF want to continue requiring long-gun reports from dealers in the four states that border Mexico?
Because law enforcement and the border communities they protect are under attack.
Over a recent five-year period, drug cartels in Mexico killed nearly 50,000 people —including thousands of police and military personnel. ATF data shows 70 percent of firearms recovered and traced in drug cartel crimes in Mexico came from the United States. And a report from the Department of Justice shows that in 2009, powerful long guns made up nearly half of the guns recovered from crime scenes in Mexico.
So the ATF introduced the multiple-sales reporting requirement for long guns in the four border states. And it’s working.
During just its first eight months, the ATF program generated more than 3,000 reports that accounted for the purchase of more than 7,300 assault rifles. The ATF opened more than 120 criminal investigations based on the critical intelligence it gathered. Prosecution was recommended for 100 defendants.
The program helps law enforcement catch the criminals who feed guns to violent drug cartels. Federal courts have consistently ruled that it’s lawful. It isn’t burdensome to gun dealers and it doesn’t infringe on anybody’s Second Amendment rights.
So why would the House want to eliminate it?
The NRA’s lobbying arm opposed the program on ideological grounds even before it took effect. Now it’s applauding the House’s moves against the ATF — showing, once again, that NRA headquarters doesn’t brook even the most reasonable policies for preventing gun crime.
Given the choice, it seems certain lawmakers would rather recklessly stand in the way of law enforcement — and play politics with border security — than stand up to the gun lobby.
The good news is that Senate appropriators acted this month to right the House’s wrongs. The final budget bill should reflect the Senate’s approach, reject the House’s, and reject the NRA’s “guns for everyone, everywhere” agenda.
Such a bill would ensure that common-sense, constitutional policies for keeping guns out of criminal hands can continue to get results and protect people from gun violence.
John Feinblatt is the president of Everytown for Gun Safety.