In a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre blasted the gun violence prevention plan introduced by President Obama and Democrats in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, but assured the committee the NRA supports “enforcing the federal gun laws on the books 100 percent of the time.” The gun lobby has long justified their opposition to new regulation by citing the myth that there are already 20,000 gun laws on the books. Republican lawmakers have dutifully taken up the line, protesting that we must enforce existing gun laws before even considering new ones.
However, as a new Center for American Progress report details, the NRA has quietly made enforcing existing gun laws nearly impossible by sneaking gun deregulation into unrelated legislation.
Over the past few decades, the NRA has tucked so-called “riders” into annual appropriations bills funding various government functions in order to avoid scrutiny in the regular legislative process. While the gun lobby is hardly the only special interest to employ this tactic, they have been enormously successful in undermining basic federal and local gun regulations through these riders.
The CAP report outlines several key riders the NRA has used to cripple gun regulation, mainly by weakening the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives:
Banned the ATF from managing its own data. Through riders, the NRA has stripped the ATF of its independence and limited the agency’s ability to manage its own data. Since 1979, the ATF has been banned from consolidating its gun sales records into a centralized database, making it extremely difficult for the agency and law enforcement to track guns in crimes. As the CAP report notes, “ATF receives an average of 1.3 million records from out-of-business dealers each month, and it is forced to keep these records in boxes in warehouses or on microfiche.” In 2004, the ATF was further restricted from disclosing any data on guns found at crime scenes to the public. Research indicates that real ATF prosecution can deter gun dealers from selling to criminals; currently, one percent of gun dealers sell half the guns used in crimes. Obama’s gun prevention plan, smeared as “tyranny” by gun advocates, would finally appoint a director to the ATF for the first time in six years and give the agency better resources to create a gun trafficking database.
Prevented the ATF from tracking stolen guns. The ATF is officially responsible for inspecting and overseeing licensed firearms dealers. But in 2004, the gun lobby successfully pushed a rider to specifically prevent the ATF from requiring dealers to conduct an annual inventory. As a result, tens of thousands of lost and stolen guns go unreported every year. In 2011, nearly 18,500 guns were unaccounted for during 13,100 firearms inspections. Due to this rider, the ATF has no way of discovering or penalizing gun dealers regularly lose track of firearms. Nor can they determine what guns were lost or when — until they show up at crime scenes.
Strangled research into gun violence. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention released a comprehensive gun violence study as part of their public health research in 1993. Infuriated by the study, the NRA successfully lobbied to kill almost all funding for gun violence studies. Many of the statistics used in the gun debate today are decades-old, as new gun violence research has become virtually nonexistent. Since the 1996 rider preventing the CDC from spending money to “advocate or promote gun control,” gun research has dropped 95 percent, from $2.5 million in 1993-1996 to $100,000 in 2009-2012. Obama’s gun violence prevention plan would lift the ban on gun research funding and order the CDC to initiate a new comprehensive study.
Currently, Congress is debating an appropriations bill to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year. Within that bill, the gun lobby has inserted language to permanently enshrine the riders limiting the ATF — effectively rendering key parts of Obama’s gun violence prevention plan moot. In order to combat these measures, the CAP report concludes, the next bill will need language that actively overrides these riders.