For folks who might not have time to read this whole blog here is the short version: urge your representative in Congress to repeal the Tiahrt Amendment. Let me explain why.

On February 20, Heeding God’s Call held a peaceful demonstration in front of The Shooter Shop in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. While there, they were confronted by about 20 counter-protestors from the National Rifle Association (NRA). Like Colisimo’s that was the focus of our efforts through much of 2009, The Shooter Shop has been identified by the Brady Campaign as a store that has routinely been the source of guns used in crimes; guns that were not legally owned by their users; guns secured through the process of straw purchasing. Like with Colisimo’s, the protestors were asking the owner of the Shooter Shop, Lawrence Haney, to sign the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Code of Conduct that would put him on record as working actively to seek to identify and report potential straw purchasers. Like Mr. Colisimo, Mr. Haney refused to sign the code.

Dan Del Cotto, Mr. Haney’s attorney dismissed the data that was the basis of the demonstration as outdated and unreliable. Mr. Del Cotto is correct when he says the data is dated, but here’s the catch. The reason more recent data is not more available is because The National Rifle Association with whom he is associated, forced through a law that makes more recent data unavailable to the public and to local law enforcement agencies. The bill is call the Tiahrt Amendment, named after its sponsor Kansas Republican, Todd Tiahrt. Essentially what this law does is “restrict cities, states and even the police from fully accessing and using Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) gun trace data, which can show where illegal guns are coming from, who buys them and how they get trafficked across state lines and into our communities.” So when law enforcement officials, as well as public action groups like Heeding God’s Call, want information as to where guns used in crimes are coming from and what stores are selling these guns, they have difficulty getting access to that information. The NRA with its deep pockets lobbied hard and won passage of this bill. The most recent data on gun sales comes from 2004 before the law was passed.

So why would the NRA propose such a bill.On their own website, the NRA says they are trying to protect gun owner’s confidentiality and that such information is not necessary. Interesting, since the police seeking to investigate such crimes disagree. So one is led to believe that perhaps the NRA is not telling the whole truth, that in fact the true reasons lie in a more insidious purpose.

Now I have no inside information, but let me lay out what seems to be a very likely scenario. The gun maufacturers have long realized that the legal gun market in this country has become saturated. People who buy guns are not new owners, but existing owners replacing other weapons or adding to existing stocks. Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal recently reported that interest in gun-related recreation such as hunting has lost its appeal with younger people; they would rather play video games than hunt. At the same time, it is commonly known that the largest users of illegal guns in this country are young men in urban communities. So the gun industry has done what any business in that situation would do; they have turned their sights on this new market in the urban centers.

There is only one problem; these young men are not able to secure these guns legally. They must get them through straw purchasing. However, straw purchasing is limited by laws that limit handgun sales to one a month, or which require anyone having a gun lost or stolen to report that fact to police. So the gun industry and its front organization, the NRA, have consistently opposed all efforts to pass such laws. Likewise, they have consistently worked for passage of laws like the Tiahrt Amendment, which would make public information about those stores where illegal guns tend to be bought. Because they put a lot of money in legislators’ pockets, they are often successful. Furthermore, now they are showing up at demonstrations where local citizens are pressuring gun shop owners to not sell to people they suspect may be participating in the straw purchasing process.

In the end, as Tony Soprano often used to say when he was “forced” to kill someone who had turned against him, “It’s strictly business.” Straw purchasing is good business for the gun manufacturers, and for pro-gun organizations such as the NRA.

Ordinary citizens need to say “NO MORE!”. We need to challenge our lawmakers to look beyond their campaign coffers. Laws like the Tiahrt Amendment need to be repealed. Contrary to the NRA’s rhetoric and the media’s often misunderstanding of the issue, groups like Heeding God’s Call are not against the legal ownership of guns. They are simply saying that anyone who deals in lethal items such as firearms need to be accountable to make sure those guns don’t get into the hands of people who will use them to create havoc and death in our neighborhoods.

As I have said before, if legal gun owners, groups like the NRA, and the gun manufacturers truly cared about creating safer communities, they would be marching with us, and not waving their flags in false bravado against us. With or without the NRA’s help the Tiahrt Amendment needS to be repealed, so that we can get the facts about gun sales and gun use out in the open, and so we can work together to keep the wrong people from getting access to guns that make all of us less safe.