Gun Violence Pressures Democrats to Revisit Gun Trace Data Laws

In response to the recent crime wave, Democrats are pressing for new federal legislation on collecting gun data, raising concerns about the privacy of legal gun owners.

Mayor Adams, in his Blueprint to End Gun Violence, calls for federal legislation that will give law enforcement access to gun data stored by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

That would require repealing the so-called “Tiahrt Amendment,” a series of “riders” attached to the Department of Justice appropriations bill that safeguards gun owner data from being released by ATF.

Tiahrt also guarantees background check data to be destroyed within 24 hours and prohibits ATF from requiring gun dealers to submit inventories to law enforcement.

The original 2003 provision was made permanent in 2007. In 2009, it was amended to strengthen protections for undercover law enforcement operations and confidential informants.

Although Tiahrt prohibits the Department of Justice from creating a federal registry, gun owners express concern for ATF’s growing database of nearly one billion.

By federal law, the dealer keeps records of gun sales for 20 years. ATF scans the records into a digital database searchable only by serial number. It also collects all records from dealers who go out of business.

Decentralization protects against government abuse of gun owner data. Some worry the Biden administration’s policy on combating gun violence is clamping down on legal gun owners.

“Biden’s proposed regulation is a provision that would mean every single Firearm Transaction Record going forward would eventually be sent to ATF’s registry in West Virginia,” said Aiden Johnston of the Gun Owners of America.

“Neither ATF nor Biden’s anti-gun appointees know anything about the firearms and accessories they seek to regulate,” said Johnston.

The NRA echoed a similar sentiment while claiming the Biden administration could utilize ATF’s gun data to trace AR-15 rifles, hinting at Democrats’ “gun grab” initiatives.

Under the original Tiahrt provision, trace information is only entitled to law enforcement “in connection with and for use in a bona fide criminal investigation or prosecution” or in administrative actions by the ATF.

Still, Democrats see Tiahrt as an obstacle to federal agencies’ efficiency. For one, destroying gun purchaser records within 24 hours limits ATF’s ability to find prohibited persons who were able to purchase guns.

These records could potentially prevent casualties during emergency calls by giving law enforcement information on whether a person at the residence owns a gun. The data could also assist in the relinquishment of firearms by convicted felons.

Chuck Canterbury, former National President of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), argues “firearm trace data is collected by ATF for public safety, not for civil litigation.”

Canterbury believes the average cop does not support a federal registry: “Officers in the field who are actually working illegal gun cases know that releasing sensitive information about pending cases can jeopardize the integrity of the investigation or even place the lives of undercover officers in danger.”

None of that seems to matter to Democrats, who are more focused on excessive regulation of law-abiding citizens.

“We must repeal the Tiahrt Amendment,” says Mayor Adams, “(it) has weakened law enforcement’s efforts to prevent gun crimes and limited the public’s ability to study gun violence and trafficking.”

In step with Mayor Adams, Gov. Hochul believes gun tracing to be paramount, stressing the ease of interplay between federal agencies through her “interstate gun-tracing consortium.” In her 2023 Executive Budget, she allocates an additional $215,000 for a “gun crime tracing team.”

Democrats have made it a point to stress “gun trafficking” as the primary source of gun crime. Now, they are looking to streamline data by granting federal agencies access to legal gun owner data.

The ”Gun Records Restoration and Preservation Act,” sponsored by New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, aims to do just that by eliminating Tiahrt’s ban on a federal registry through the “consolidation or centralization in the Department of Justice of firearms acquisition and disposition records.”

The Democrat-sponsored bill also looks to repeal other provisions of Tiahrt, including the required deletion of instant background check records within 24 hours.

A second bill, the Federal Firearm Licensee Act, sponsored by Illinois Rep. Kelly Robin, calls for Tiahrt’s repeal and ATF to “establish and maintain electronic, searchable databases of all records regarding the importation, production, shipment, receipt, sale or other disposition of firearms required to be submitted by licensees to the Attorney General.”

The most recent of the three, the “Trafficking Reduction And Criminal Enforcement (TRACE) Act” sponsored by Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley, looks to do more than just repeal Tiahrt but also add a hidden serial number to all new guns. The serial number will be “located inside the receiver of the firearm or that is visible only in infrared light.”

All three bills aim to centralize gun owner data at the expense of lawful gun owners. ATF has advocated against a central database in fear of government overreach, but it’s not the potential abuse that concerns Democrats.

In light of Biden’s poor approval rating and midterms around the corner, Democrats could leverage the “gun crime” issue to successfully repeal Tiahrt, if not make a case for further restrictions on gun owners.