26 Jul 2007 Protecting Police Officers More Important Than Helping Political Donors, Group Says
Congress should not put the lives of law enforcement officials at risk to benefit its trial lawyer contributors, says Deneen Borelli of the national black group Project 21.
Congress is now considering overturning the Tiahrt Amendment, a measure that restricts certain gun data from being shared outside of the law enforcement community. Project 21 members are opposing any action that allows trial lawyers, politicians, criminals and others from accessing federal gun trace information.
“The only possible purpose served by overturning the Tiahrt Amendment is to aid the anti-gun lobby and make it easier for trial lawyers to sue gun manufacturers,” said Project 21 fellow Deneen Borelli. “Killing the Tiahrt Amendment would also be a great thing for criminals. Not only could they learn they are the subject of an investigation, but also the identity of special agents and informants.”
The Tiahrt Amendment – named after its chief sponsor, Representative Todd Tiahrt (R-KS) – was first enacted in 2003. It amends the appropriations legislation that funds the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) to restrict the sharing of the contents of the Firearms Trace System that is administered by the BATFE’s National Trace Center. Under the terms of the amendment, data regarding guns involved in crimes is restricted to domestic and foreign law enforcement and prosecutors as it relates to the investigation and prosecution of specific crimes and for national security, intelligence and counterterrorism purposes. Trace data is also inadmissible in evidence and cannot be subpoenaed.
Project 21’s Borelli added: “I am a gun owner. I was appalled when a local newspaper decided to publish my name and the names of other registered gun owners in my area. It was an outrageous violation of my privacy rights. Overturning the Tiahrt Amendment could allow this violation of privacy and safety to occur on a larger and more dangerous scale.”
The origin of the Tiahrt Amendment comes from a 2002 court decision that allowed trial lawyers to access the BATFE’s trace data to gather information for potential lawsuits against gun manufacturers. Dave Kopel of the Independence Institute has also written about how trace data has been used by special interest groups to overstate gun violence figures.
Amendment supporters also want to protect the confidentiality of the federal database because the release of some information contained in it may compromise investigations and reveal the identities of undercover officers. The Fraternal Order of Police supports the Tiahrt Amendment “because of our concern for the safety of law enforcement officers and the integrity of law enforcement investigations.” In 2006, then-BATFE director Carl J. Truscott said the Amendment “protects… sensitive data from indiscriminate disclosure.”
Project 21, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research, has been a leading voice of the African-American community since 1992. For more information, contact David Almasi at (202) 543-4110 x11 or [email protected], or visit Project 21’s website at http://www.project21.org/P21Index.html.