The NRA, ATF, Insider Trading and Politics At Its Worst

Todd Tiahrt

Sometimes it takes a comedy show to connect the political dots in a way that makes the ugliness of Washington DC chillingly clear. On a recent episode of “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart laid out the train-wreck that is our governmental policy toward guns in America. Here’s a brief breakdown:

A few years back, Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS) suggested during a CNN interview that we did not, in fact, need additional gun laws. He noted that we already have about 2,200 gun laws on the books, and that the real issue is that those laws are not being properly enforced. Tiahrt went further to suggest that enforcing these laws should not be the purview of state or local law enforcement, namely because we have a government agency – the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) – whose job it is to pursue such enforcement around the clock.

Makes sense. At least if that was the whole story.

The problem is that the ATF hasn’t had a permanent director since 2006. Instead, the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota (a full-time job in itself) “commutes” from his home state to serve as an interim director. Seems ridiculous, right? Why not just appoint a new director by executive order? This is how it should work, yes?

In theory. But back in 2006 (a year before Tiahrt’s CNN interview) Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) inserted a clause into the Patriot Act requiring

Congress to aprove any appointments to the head of the ATF, which is the sole government agency responsible for the federal control of firearms. Since then, they have failed to approve anyone brought forward by a president to fill that post.

Keep in mind that, for two of those years, the President was George W. Bush.

Jim Sensenbrenner

Strange thing, to put a clause about the ATF into a seemingly unrelated bill. Interesting, also, that the same year this clause found its way into the Patriot Act, Sensenbrenner accepted the NRA’s “Defender of Freedom” award.

Lest we give too much credit where it’s undue, it should be noted that Sensenbrenner didn’t actually write the ATF clause; he simply inserted it into the Patriot Act. The one responsible for writing the clause was – yes, kids – Rep. Todd Tiahrt, the very one who urged us to lean on the ATF to enforce our existing gun laws rather than doing anything else to rectify the problem.

Republicans aren’t alone in this sort of self-serving obfuscation. Here’s a transcribed excerpt from a “60 Minutes” Segment called “Insiders” that aired in November, 2011, which deals with the failure of Congress to pass what is now called the STOCK Act (finally passed after this piece aired ). The act now bars Congress from benefitting from insider trading, which means they can’t use information provided to them about forthcoming legislation to make stock trades. For the rest of the country, this is a felony offense.

…former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband have participated in at least eight IPOs (Initial Price Offerings – when a company first goes public). One of those came in 2008, from Visa, just as a troublesome piece of legislation that would have hurt credit card companies, began making its way through the House. Undisturbed by a potential conflict of interest the Pelosis purchased 5,000 shares of Visa at the initial price of $44 dollars. Two days later it was trading at $64. The credit card legislation never made it to the floor of the House.

Pelosi denied doing anything wrong.

So basically, legislators know certain things we don’t, or at least they know it before we do. So it stands to reason that, if that knowledge is highly likely to affect the price of a stock either way, they should not be able to profit from that at other investors’ expense. But it took the public humiliation of a story like this by a news show to finally force the issue.

Now remind me again: why is it that Congress currently ranks lower in public opinion polls than a rectal exam? I’m guessing it’s because, in both cases, we end up taking it in more or less the same place.

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • Kansas Rhoades

    Don’t Buy Claims About Tiahrt Gun Amendment

    by Chuck Canterbury, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police

    Some of America’s mayors, led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York
    City and Thomas M. Menino of Boston, would like you to believe that
    their Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition is about fighting illegal
    firearms in their cities and across the country.

    It’s not.

    The principal
    goal of this coalition is the repeal of language that has repeatedly
    been passed into law for the past several years that prevents
    information on gun traces collected by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
    Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from being given to mayors pursuing civil
    litigation suits against firearm dealers and manufacturers. The mayors
    would have you believe that law enforcement supports giving them the
    information on gun traces because many of their employees–namely police
    chiefs, who often serve at the pleasure of the mayor–have publicly
    backed their coalition.

    But the officers in the field who are
    actually working illegal gun cases know that releasing sensitive
    information about pending cases can jeopardize the integrity of an
    investigation or even place the lives of undercover officers in danger.
    That is why the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has always supported
    language protecting firearm trace data, now known as the Tiahrt
    Amendment. For the men and women in uniform who are fighting illegal
    guns, it is a matter of officer safety and good police work.

    In
    media reports last year, law enforcement sources cited that as many as
    four cases were compromised and an additional 14 were put at risk by
    private investigators employed by New York City who acted on the basis
    of trace data.
    ATF itself has repeatedly gone to court to fight the
    release of its data, because the release can have a negative effect on
    its efforts to investigate illegal gun trafficking and threaten the
    safety of officers and witnesses.

    In media reports last year,
    law enforcement sources cited that as many as four cases were
    compromised and an additional 14 were put at risk by private
    investigators employed by New York City who acted on the basis of trace
    data. In this case, the investigators conducted “sting” operations in
    support of the city’s civil suit against several gun stores that had
    been identified through firearm trace data. As a result, several gun
    trafficking suspects under investigation by law enforcement changed
    their behavior to avoid scrutiny and criminal indictment. This is
    exactly the type of interference that caused the FOP to originally
    support language restricting the use of the data to law enforcement
    entities only–not cities engaged in lawsuits.

    Bad actors
    trafficking in illegal guns should be arrested, prosecuted, convicted
    and sentenced. If these mayors really want to make a contribution to the
    investigation and apprehension of those who illegally traffic in–and
    criminally misuse–firearms, they should use their political clout to
    secure additional funding for ATF, instead of trying to develop a shadow
    enforcement program.

    Firearm trace data is collected by ATF for public safety, not for civil litigation.

    We urge members of Congress to continue to support the Tiahrt Amendment. Let’s send the bad guys to jail, not civil court.

    — published in the Wichita Eagle on April 24, 2007

    • http://www.facebook.com/christiandpiatt Christian Piatt

      The original Tiahrt Amendment was passed, I believe, in 2003. If I understand correctly, this is the one that had to do with gun serial trace law. The one I’m talking about is the amendment shoe-horned into the Patriot Act in 2006. Two separate issues.


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