The National Rifle Association (NRA) likes to say that the United States doesn’t need new gun laws, it just needs to enforce the ones that that already exist. If that’s true, then the NRA should support new legislation introduced in the House last week that repeals a series of restrictions on the ability to enforce current gun laws.
The “Enforce Existing Gun Laws Act” (H.R. 1728) was introduced by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) last week. The legislation repeals several riders that have been snuck in over the years to restrict the powers available to the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Bureau (ATF) and other authorities to use the laws on the books against firearm crime. Many of the riders were passed as part of the 2004 Tiahrt Amendments (named after their sponsor, former Rep. Todd Tiahrt [R-KS]) or a package of gun law weakening riders passed just this year.
Here’s four of the most important provisions of the Enforce Existing Gun Laws Act:
1) Removes a key restriction the ability of the federal government to use background checks against criminals. Federal law currently mandates that all “approved” background check results — essentially, records of approved sales — be destroyed after 24 hours. This makes it substantially more difficult for law enforcement officials to figure out whether a criminal was mistakenly approved to purchase a gun and trace crime guns back to the original point of sale quickly.
2) Frees the ATF to draw conclusions about crime from gun trace data. Though research on gun violence has used gun trace data to provide clear evidence that measures like universal background checks effectively deter crime, current federal law prevents the ATF from drawing “broad conclusions about firearms-related crime” in official reports, no matter how warranted by the evidence they are.
3) Allows federal agents to require that gun dealers inventory their guns. The Tiahrt Amendments contain a provision preventing the ATF from requiring federally licensed firearms dealers to inventory their guns before inspections, preventing federal law enforcement from checking submitted inventories against real inventories to establish whether a particular firearm retailer is crooked.
4) Gives the ATF more power to shut down suspicious gun dealers. Current law prevents the ATF from shutting down a retailer due to a “lack of business activity.”
Though these and other elements of current law overturned by the Enforce Existing Gun Laws Act impede federal ability to make current gun laws work, the NRA has in the past supported several of them.