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

The NRA, ATF, Insider Trading and Politics At Its Worst January 19, 2013

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.

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