2007-07-20 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

Why Does Congress Protect Shady Gun Dealers? It's The Money,Honey!
Commentary By Howard Schwach

The guns used by the three Rockaway men who shot two police officers nearly two weeks ago came from Virginia, as the majority of guns used on local streets do.

You would think that it would be relatively easy for local police agencies such as the NYPD to track weapons used to commit a crime, but it is not. In fact, if Congress had its way, there would never be a central database of gun sales that could be used to track weapons used in crimes. Why? Because the National Rifle Association (NRA) says so, and the NRA controls Congress like an air traffic controller handles the planes in his or her jurisdiction. When it comes to the gun control issue, the NRA's control over Congress is mind-bending, and you don't have to be a liberal to think so.

I have written a number of short books about the Constitution and its provisions, mostly for school kids. I support the Constitution as a living, breathing document that changes with the political times. As much as I detest President Bush and some of his appointees to the Supreme Court, he is right to appoint those who support his views because that's what the Constitution says he has the right to do.

That does not mean I believe the Second Amendment gives everybody the right to carry an assault weapon.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution was written by men who had been through the Revolutionary War and knew how important the Minutemen and other local militia were to the victory of the colonies.

They were convinced that the people had to keep their right to bear arms to insure the freedom they had just won; there was no effective army to protect them and it was unclear whether England would try and take the colonies back, or whether France or Spain would take advantage of the new nation's weakness, particularly in the south.

That is why the amendment speaks of the need for a militia prefacing the language that people had the right to bear arms.

A militia is hardly necessary today, as the United States has the strongest army in the world and large police forces to patrol local areas.

Yet the NRA continues to argue that any diminution of the Second Amendment rights guaranteed under the Constitution, even the banning of high-powered assault weapons and ammunition, is intolerable and unconstitutional.

And, they pay members of Congress millions of dollars in what they call contributions - but which can only be termed as bribes - to insure that they vote for what the NRA believes in.

Which leads us to the Tiahrt Amendment.

That amendment to a funding bill, sponsored by Kansas Representative Todd Tiahrt, restricts the access of cities and law enforcement to trace gun data available in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Agency (ATFE) databases.

Why does the NRA want to limit that information?

Because the NRA and those who support the amendment fear that the cities will use it to track and harass individual gun owners and in lawsuits against gun manufacturers.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the leader of a group of 225 mayors who oppose the amendment.

"The Tiahrt Amendment is the most anti-cop, soft-on-crime law Congress has passed in years," Bloomberg said. "It prevents our police officers from tracking the illegal gun trade - and locking up those who engage in it."

In fact, the Tiahrt Amendment allows cops who use information from the database to be prosecuted in federal court and sent to jail.

The bill specifically bars police from using ownership traces by ATFE for far-reaching investigations. Instead, they can use the traces only for specific criminal investigations.

For example, local police can use the database to trace the guns used to shoot the police officers in Brooklyn two weeks ago, but not to find out what other guns used in crimes have come from the same source or dealer.

Whose side is Congress on, anyway?

You got it. The only side the members of Congress who voted for Tiahrt are on, is the NRA's. The NRA welcomed the amendment, which is disingenuous, because their lobbyists wrote it in the first place, with a statement arguing, "Sharing information about traces would endanger undercover officers, damage ongoing criminal investigations and could be used by politicians against gun dealers."

What a crock. How about the undercover cops who are killed by gun and drug dealers carrying high-powered weapons bought legally in Virginia and Florida and then resold illegally on the streets of New York City? How about uniformed cops like the ones who were shot last week with a gun sold illegally by a Virginia gun dealer?

The key is the money, honey. The NRA wants to protect gun dealers from lawsuits and will do anything it must do to meet that goal.

Police be damned. The public be damned. It's the money, honey.

It is clear that there is a dichotomy between city people and everybody else.

City people largely believe that only police officers should carry guns. Everybody in the middle of the nation, however, believes that the Second Amendment is an absolute.

It is not. We no longer need a militia to keep us free. There is no longer a need for every citizen to keep a rifle in the closet, to drill on the commons, ready to fight the man who would be king or the invaders from afar.

This is not "Red Dawn."

We need to set some realistic rules, and that includes allowing our law enforcement agencies to use any tool available to track shady gun dealers, close them down and reduce the number of illegal guns on our streets.

On Thursday of last week, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee rejected two separate amendments that would have changed Tiahrt.

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly applauded the vote. He believes that releasing the information may well cause problems for his undercover cops and for some of his ongoing investigations. I personally find that a strange statement coming from the city's chief police officer.

The vote in the House committee was 26-40 to change the amendment so that local police could have access to this vital information.

"Today's vote is a victory for rankand file law enforcement," a spokesperson for the NRA said after his victory. "These courageous men and women are in a protracted battle with politicians who want access to this information to further their own polit- ical agenda."

What bologna.

It is time for the Senators and Representatives who really care about law and order to make a choice between the money they get from the NRA and the lives of their constituents.

Representative Anthony Weiner, who represents Rockaway in the House, perhaps had the key to his colleague's behavior.

"Too many lives are being destroyed by illegal guns coming across state lines. The Tiahrt amendment only helps one group - criminals. That is who the House of Representatives stood up for today.

`"It is critical that police officers have the ability to trace the flow of illegal guns, which could have possibly prevented the tragic incident involving two NYPD officers this past week.

"My colleagues that have bowed to the pressure from the NRA have failed police officers, and failed the families of those who have lost loved ones to illegal guns."

Which way will the House and Senate jump when the NRA calls? You already know the answer to that question.

It's the money, honey.

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