Tiahrt Responds to Bloomberg Campaign of Lies and Distortion
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representative Todd Tiahrt (R-Goddard) today blasted the organization behind a comprehensive campaign aimed at repealing current law that prohibits public release of critical data related to ongoing criminal investigations. In addition to a full page ad in USA Today last week, Internet ads and a series of television ads, Mayors Against Illegal Guns has now hired someone to drive a truck up and down busy streets in Wichita falsely claiming the so-called Tiahrt Amendment “puts police at risk.”
“I am no longer surprised with the outrageous claims made by this group,” said Tiahrt. “It is unfortunate that a few media outlets and advertising companies are actually willing to publicly disseminate this misleading and blatantly false propaganda.”
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At issue is a campaign urging repeal of the Tiahrt Amendment, which prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from releasing gun trace data to the public. The ATF gun trace database contains investigation-specific information and is made available to law enforcement agencies and prosecutors for criminal investigations. The ATF and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the nation’s largest law enforcement organization, support the Tiahrt Amendment and have requested its reauthorization every year since 2003. Both organizations claim repeal of the Tiahrt Amendment would jeopardize ongoing criminal investigations and risk the lives of undercover law enforcement officers.
The organization Mayors Against Illegal Guns is behind the Tiahrt repeal campaign. The group claims to have the support of numerous police chiefs across the country, which is also misleading according to National FOP President Chuck Canterbury.
“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,” explained Canterbury. “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 has always supported language protecting firearms 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.”
The ads and billboards contain numerous false claims, including the most frequent ones outlined below:
False Claim # 1
“Congress has been undermining police work by quietly refusing to allow police and prosecutors access to crucial crime-fighting information.”
The Tiahrt Amendment allows local law enforcement and prosecutors access to ATF gun trace data. (First page of attached Tiahrt Amendment)
False Claim # 2
“The real reason (for blocking the data) is special interest politics.” A 2002 Tiahrt quote is then printed.
NY Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the FOP have all requested this language to protect investigations and law enforcement officers. Hopefully it is true that not one law enforcement officer ever died prior to the enactment of the Tiahrt protection—Rep. Tiahrt joins the FOP, ATF and others in supporting a policy that will keep it that way. Are the mayors suggesting they need a police officer to die to justify the Tiahrt Amendment?
The Tiahrt quote was related to a different provision of an amendment regarding part-time federal firearms licenses, which affected several of his constituents who sold firearms to supplement their income. It was in no way related to the ATF Gun Trace Data amendment.
False Claim # 3
“This new Congress has a chance to stand up… in the fight for public safety by ending the Tiahrt Amendment.”
Repeal of the Tiahrt Amendment means any member of the public will have access to investigation-specific information that could jeopardize ongoing criminal investigations and risk the lives of law enforcement officers.
Excerpt from 2002 letter from NY Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft:
- The prospect that information obtained through these traces may be available for release by request to ATF under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is therefore quite disturbing. Even more alarming is the possibility that this information might be released while the investigation remains open. The release of trace information under FOIA seriously jeopardizes not only the investigations, but also the lives of law enforcement officers, informants, witnesses, and others. Even when the information does not identify specifics individuals who may be endangered, merely disclosing that a trace was conducted may be enough to create a grave threat to life, to result in the flight of the suspects or the destruction of evidence, or to otherwise compromise investigations in which law enforcement agencies discontinuing—or at least curtailing—their use of the trace system. Thus, the effectiveness of the overall trace system, as well as the essential relationship of cooperation that has been cultivated between federal and local law enforcement, also would be seriously undermined.
Excerpt from 2007 Fraternal Order of Police letter to Congressional leaders:
- The FOP has supported this language since the original version was first enacted several years ago because of our concern for the safety of law enforcement officers and the integrity of law enforcement investigation. For example, the disclosure of trace requests can inadvertently reveal the names of undercover officers or informants, endangering their safety. It may also tip off the target of an investigation, as appears to be the case in New York City. According to media reports last year, law enforcement sources cited that as many as “four cases were compromise and an additional 14 were put at risk” by private investigators employed by the city who acted on the basis of trace data. In this case, the investigators conducted “sting” operations for the city’s civil suit against several gun stores that had been identified through firearms trace data. As a result, several gun trafficking suspects under investigation by law enforcement changed their behavior to avoid scrutiny. This is exactly the type of interference that caused the FOP to originally support the language restricting the use of the data to law enforcement.
Excerpt from 2006 ATF letter to Congressman Todd Tiahrt
- The Department of Justice supports this provision because it protects this law enforcement sensitive data from indiscriminate disclosure. The provision reflects ATF’s long-standing policy of disclosing firearms trace results only to the law enforcement agency that recovered the firearm at the crime scene and requested ATF to trace the firearm. This policy, which preceded the passage of the appropriations restrictions in question, recognizes the legitimate interest of the law enforcement agency that provided the investigative information to ATF concerning the traced crime gun in deciding how to utilize and whether to disseminate sensitive law enforcement information that could jeopardize pending investigations. The premature and indiscriminate disclosure of law enforcement information regarding open criminal investigations and prospective investigations based on the leads derived from this data would allow wrongdoers to take action to evade detection and could potentially jeopardize the safety of witnesses, informants, and law enforcement personnel.
Improvements vs. Repeal
Tiahrt acknowledges there are ways to improve the Tiahrt Amendment to make some provisions more clear. However, it is false to claim that law enforcement does not have access to gun trace data, even from other jurisdictions. Local law enforcement agencies are allowed to share the data from their jurisdictions with any other entity they choose.
Repealing the Tiahrt Amendment means anyone can receive the names of investigators, targeted gun dealers and other specific information related to criminal investigations. There is at least one website that exposes police informants. Tiahrt is concerned the mayors are now opening up the possibility of new websites exposing undercover agents as well.
“I have reached out to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others to try to reach compromise on some of the Tiahrt Amendment provisions. However, the current version of the Tiahrt Amendment, which protects law enforcement officers and their investigations, is better than repeal that results in total public access to data that could help criminals and end up killing cops,” Tiahrt said.
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