Gun violence prevention advocates, public health researchers and members of
the media are the “usual suspects” pushing officials at different levels of
government for information about firearms used in crime.
Unfortunately, these groups are frequently stymied by the Tiahrt restrictions, which place unnecessary limits on what
government officials can say about such weapons. This secrecy helps keep the
public in the dark about the nature of the illegal gun market, and makes it
difficult for public officials to formulate policy to disrupt illegal gun trafficking and use.
Now, in the wake of the tragic shootings of four Oakland police officers in March, a
California gun lobby organization known as Calguns finds itself also trying to
get crime gun information about the weapons used in those murders. In their
case, they want to oppose efforts to make high-capacity ammunition magazines
harder to get in California rather than stop illegal gun sales, but their
position is instructive.
Former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not
entitled to your own facts.” Apart from their views about gun violence
prevention, the effort by Calguns suggests that they too realize that the public
needs to know the facts about guns involved in shootings and other crimes in
order to adequately debate gun policy.
The question of public access to crime gun trace data is a little dry, and it
may be difficult to keep the public’s interest for very long. Still, if we want
to do something about the 100,000 deaths and injuries from guns that occur every year in
this country, we need to learn more about what guns are used in crime and where
they come from.
It was because of these issues that candidate Barack Obama made a specific
promise to repeal the Tiahrt Amendment during his 2008 campaign. His
Administration has yet to do what he promised, however, and efforts to combat
the illegal gun market – which fuels gun crime across America – are suffering
because of it.