Congress Continues War on Gun Data

Republican senators inserted several gun rights measures into a bill to fund the government through September, including one that says the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives must attach a disclaimer to any gun data saying it "cannot be used to draw broad conclusions about fire-arms-related crimes." The gun lobby has lobbied to prevent government funding of research on gun deaths and injuries for almost two decades. It has succeeded. This follows a report that a Senate deal on universal background checks would require gun sellers to destroy records, which, as  Mother Jones' Kevin Drum points out, would make the law meaningless. It's hard not to be skeptical of an industry that lobbies not just to keep it's product legal, but to keep scientists from studying the effects of its product, and anyone from keeping track of who uses its product.

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Democratic senators allowed the gun measures, The New York Times' Jennifer Steinhauer reports, to preempt more restrictive House ones. The House version would have banned the ATF from requiring gun dealers near the border with Mexico to report when they sold two or more rifles with detachable magazines — guns like the AR-15 and the AK-47. (The ATF was trying to monitor gun trafficking in Mexico in the Fast & Furious scandal.) The measures in the Senate bill will make permanent several gun rules that have been around since 2004. They include:

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  • Banning the ATF from requiring gun dealers to do a yearly inventory check to see if any guns were lost or stolen.

  • Broadly defines "antique" guns so they can be imported more easily.

  • Banning the ATF from spiking a gun dealer's license because he or she doesn't sell enough guns.

Meanwhile, the Senate is working on a deal for universal background checks on gun sales, combatting other data problems about the generally assumed number of sales that go check-free. The National Rifle Association reportedly won't oppose the bill if sellers are allowed to destroy the records. Of course they won't oppose it! Mother Jones explains it would be totally unenforceable:

If you suspected someone of selling a gun privately without conducting a background check, they'd simply tell you that they did, but they didn't keep the record. The FBI wouldn't be of any help, since they're required to destroy all their records. And that would be that.

The gun lobby has quite effectively prevented us from figuring out who owns guns, and what they do with them when they have them.