Copyright ©2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Now to a little known but hotly debated measure concerning gun control. A narrowly divided Congress is considering repealing something called the Tiahrt Amendment, named for Republican Congressman Todd Tiahrt of Kansas. It limits the ability of local police to get federal gun trace data.

ANTHONY BROOKS, host:

The National Rifle Association and its allies say making the gun data more available could open honest gun dealers to litigation, jeopardize criminal investigations and endanger police.

BRAND: But big city mayors, police chiefs and gun control advocates want the provision gone. They say police need access to the federal data to learn where the illegal guns come from.

BROOKS: In a moment, we'll hear from a gun rights supporter about why he believes the measure is needed.

But first, to Paul Helmke. He's the former mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and he's now president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. He says that Tiahrt Amendment should be repealed.

Mr. PAUL HELMKE (President, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence): In order to do proactive policing, you not only want to know who had the gun that was used in that specific crime. You want to know is this part of a larger supply of guns that are being sent into your state and community.

BROOKS: So what they want is to be able to look at all of the information so that they can perhaps see a pattern of where illegal guns are coming from, for example?

Mr. HELMKE: Definitely. It's - and it's a sort of thing where you - in my community of Fort Wayne, if guns were coming into the community, we'd want to know. Are these coming down from Detroit, over from Chicago, up from Indianapolis? Who - which gun stores are selling these things? Is this a gun store that has a reputation of not really checking - doing the Brady background checks of losing, quote, "losing" guns, selling them under the table?

Because once you have that information, then you can develop your response to fighting them, and you can figure out what's going on. Finding out just the specific information about the one specific gun isn't good enough if you want to proactively stop those illegal guns from coming into your community.

BROOKS: I guess the argument in favor of the Tiahrt Amendment - and we're going to be hearing this in a minute from a second amendment advocate - is that without the Tiahrt Amendment, legal legitimate gun owners can be facing all kinds of unwanted and unnecessary scrutiny.

Mr. HELMKE: Actually, the thing that makes the best response to that is to look at - ask the question, were there any problems before 2003 when these amendments went in? And there weren't any problems. In fact, before 2003, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms proactively would publish studies, saying here's - that one percent of the gun dealers nationwide are providing the guns that are used in 60 percent of the crimes. That is one of the statistics.

Here are the top 10 gun dealers in the country that are supplying guns that are used illegally. They'd say here's the trafficking pattern from this state up north to that state. One of the things I hear in this - the gun debate all the time is let's enforce the current laws. Well, the one group that oftentimes does not have the law enforced against them are the gun dealers that aren't following the rules.

BROOKS: Michael Sullivan, the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the guy charged with trying to get these guns off the street, wrote an op-ed piece and said police can share the gun trace data with local cops, just as they did after the Virginia Tech shootings, and that the Tiahrt Amendment helps protect undercover cops. So what are we missing?

Mr. HELMKE: He's also a political appointee who is following directions from above. The only way that you can share information now is for each individual department to contact each other individual department and ask them about each individual case and then try to compile the information. That's a burdensome thing to do, particularly when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has all of that data combined now.

When you're fighting crime, you need to have the information. Post 9/11, you'd think we would want to share more information so different departments don't have those walls and barriers between them. This is a law enforcement thing. This is something that's going to make our community safer. Let's get the data out there.

BROOKS: Okay. Mr. Helmke, thank you for coming in. Appreciate it.

Mr. HELMKE: Thank you very much.

BROOKS: That's Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

For another perspective, we turn to Dave Workman, editor of Gun Week, who joins us from Belleview, Washington. And, Mr. Workman, thanks for joining us.

Mr. DAVE WORKMAN (Editor, Gun Week): My pleasure.

BROOKS: Okay. Now we just heard that mayors, police chiefs and a bunch of other folks concerned about the flow of illegal guns in keeping them out of the hands of the bad guys. They say the Tiahrt Amendment needs to be repealed to give cops the ability to stop the flow of these weapons. You disagree.

Mr. WORKMAN: Yeah. Really, what they want to do is repeal a federal statute that prohibits the legal fishing expeditions that they'd like to mount against firearms dealers and manufacturers. The Tiahrt Amendment as it stands now does not interfere with legitimate criminal investigations.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Fraternal Order of Police have both publicly stated that they do not want that legislation repealed. And we're agreeing with that position.

BROOKS: Well, let me ask you. Why is the Tiahrt Amendment so important to folks like you who are committed to Second Amendment rights? Be specific. I mean do you say you don't want legal fishing expeditions against who? Against gun dealers?

Mr. WORKMAN: The overwhelming majority of firearms dealers are legal. They operate legal businesses in a legal manner. There are a handful of dealers who do violate the law. Sometimes these violations are only paperwork violations.

BROOKS: Let me stop you there because that seems to be the point. This is where Raymond Kelly, for instance, the police commissioner of New York City, has a problem.

He says - and this ran in the New York Times recently - when a gun is recovered from a crime scene, the police can ask the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives to trace the weapon's prominence, where it came from.

But when his officers requested data for all gun crimes so that they can figure out where most of the guns are coming from, the Tiahrt Amendment, he says, stops him dead in his tracks. This is a police commissioner talking.

Mr. WORKMAN: Well, he's a political police commissioner too. I think the...

BROOKS: Well, wait, wait. What does that mean? I've sat in cop shops from Boston to Chicago and they all say the same thing. That's not a political statement. That's a practical how-do-we-get-the-guns-off-the-street statement.

Mr. WORKMAN: I think we're all after the same thing, but it's up to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms to enforce the federal statutes against illegal gun trading.

You probably are familiar with the op-ed piece that went out over Scripps Howard from Michael Sullivan, the acting director of BATF. If he says that they need that statue to protect sensitive data, I think we ought to give him the benefit of the doubt, don't you?

BROOKS: Well, I'm not - you know, again, I'm in the middle here. But I'm also looking...

Mr. WORKMAN: Well, it doesn't sound like you're in the middle because you just jumped in down my throat, telling me all this stuff about how you talk to street cops back in the Northeast and Commissioner Kelly. And...

BROOKS: No, I'm just saying I've covered the story and it's something that I hear...

Mr. WORKMAN: So I covered the story too.

BROOKS: Okay. Well, you know, it just sounds like from their point of view, that you're on the wrong side, that you're siding with the bad guys here.

Mr. WORKMAN: Well, that's their point of view, and I'm not siding with the bad guys. I don't think you'll find an honest gun owner anywhere in the United States that doesn't want criminals locked up.

We want these people off the streets. All you really need to do is allow the federal agency in charge of doing firearms, which is the BATF, let them do their job and leave them alone.

BROOKS: Well, Dave Workman, I think we're going to leave it there. But obviously this debate remains on the table. Thank you for joining us. I appreciate you've given us the time today.

Mr. WORKMAN: My pleasure.

BROOKS: That's Dave Workman, editor of Gun Week. He joined us from Belleview, Washington.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: