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Customers shop for guns at Freddie Bear Sports sporting goods store in Tinley Park, Ill., in January. One of the gun provisions in the spending bill prevents the Justice Department from requiring gun dealers to conduct an inventory to see if guns are lost or stolen.
Customers shop for guns at Freddie Bear Sports sporting goods store in Tinley Park, Ill., in January. One of the gun provisions in the spending bill prevents the Justice Department from requiring gun dealers to conduct an inventory to see if guns are lost or stolen. Scott Olson/Getty Images
The House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to approve a temporary measure to keep the government funded through the end of September. Government shutdown averted.
But it turns out the continuing resolution didn't just address spending. It contains six measures that limit how federal agencies deal with guns.
These are the first gun-related provisions members of Congress have passed since 20 first-graders were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. And while all of the public discussion is about new gun controls, these so-called policy riders very quietly do the opposite.
"There was very little discussion," says Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky. Rogers is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which produced the bill that contains these riders. One of them dates back to the mid-1990s; the others have been around for seven or eight years, regularly included in spending bills like this one, without any debate.
"These are not new. These are general provisions that we've carried for a long time," Rogers says.
What is new is that the continuing resolution makes four of these riders permanent.
The National Rifle Association didn't respond to a request for comment, but the group is the driving force behind these provisions.
One rider prevents the Department of Justice from requiring gun dealers to conduct an inventory to see if guns are lost or stolen. Another requires the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to make it clear that any data from criminal traces on guns can't be used to draw broad conclusions about firearms-related crime. A couple deal with curios and relics — collectible guns.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., says the provisions "restrict inventorying, information gathering, other practices that combat gun violence."
Blumenthal is pushing for new gun controls and changes to make it easier to enforce current laws. He's no fan of these riders. But he voted for the continuing resolution anyway.
"We were told that there was really no practical hope of changing the law this time, but next time, we will certainly be more aggressive than we have been this time," he says.
On the House side, Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York has been fighting these provisions for years, but she, too, voted for the spending bill.
"What's tough on this particular vote is do we shut the government down?" she says.
Lawmakers like McCarthy who oppose these riders are up against a powerful lobby, as well as congressional inertia: The riders have functionally been the law of the land for years, and it would take an active effort to remove them.
And in the case of the continuing resolution, negotiators had agreed to the riders before the Newtown shooting more than three months ago.