For more than 30 years, legislators have been discretely adding gun rights amendments to bills that limit the federal government’s power to regulate firearms.
These stealth regulations are a byproduct of the US legislative system: bills pass as a package deal, meaning that relatively insignificant revisions ride on the backs of vital pieces of legislation. Much of the problem, claims Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill), is that the low visibility of these clandestine revisions make them inherently difficult to combat.
These revisions often have nothing to do with the larger bill – a bit of fine print that lawmakers overlook or tolerate in order to pass significant legislation. For example, one bill that detailed restrictions for credit card companies also allowed gun owners to carry firearms into national parks.
These riders don’t just promote gun rights; they also restrict the power of the federal government and cripple gun research. The Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health are both limited in the amount of money they can spend on research into firearm deaths and injuries, research that could potentially help people on both sides of the gun control debate. In 2012, research for firearm-related deaths got $1 in public spending for every $4,000 of tax dollars on cancer research. Of course, cancer claims more lives each year than gun violence, so some funding discrepency is logical.
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While slipping gun legislation into important bills may seem underhanded, NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said that riders are “just the way business gets done in this town.”
Gun control advocates, on the other hand, claim that these strategies exploit the political process and hinder important legislation. William Vizzard, a criminal justice professor and former ATF agent, said that gun control proponents “have been outspent and outmaneuvered… They just want one victory.”
He’s referring, of course, to the bill that Senators will vote on later this month. If passed, the bill would require universal background checks on gun transactions. It would be one of the biggest and most prominent gun control bills in decades, one that would deal a major blow against decades of minor gun rights victories.