December 5, 2005

Schumer: Police Should Be Able To Track Some Guns

Staff Reporter of the Sun

Senator Schumer yesterday vowed to introduce legislation allowing New York City police officers to access information from the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms National Tracing Center about stolen guns and guns that were involved in crimes.

At a press conference at his New York City office, Mr. Schumer said such legislation had potential to protect "the next Dillon Stewart," the New York police officer who was fatally shot last week with a gun that was stolen in Florida and had been used in a crime only six months ago.

"If you had all this data, you might have arrested that gun runner," he said. "Now is this foolproof? No. Are there very bad people who are going to get hold of guns no matter what we do? Yeah, that is true. But cut down the odds. This is life and death."

The Schumer proposal takes direct aim at the so-called Tiahrt Amendment, a Congressional amendment passed two years ago, which restricted access to the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms' tracing data. While the authors of the amendment say it was intended to keep journalists and other members of the general public - including potential criminals - from gaining access to sensitive information about guns and pending investigations, law enforcement officials in New York City say the amendment also restricted police access to the crucial data.

The president of the Patrolman's Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, who joined Mr. Schumer, said, "We must give law enforcement across this country the ability to speak with each other and get the information on the crime that was committed and the gun that was used to do it."

A spokesman for Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, Jason Post, said yesterday that the commissioner supports reversing the Tiahrt Amendment. Mr. Kelly, however, has in the past rejected the idea of opening up the National Tracing Center's data to the general public.

In a letter to the former attorney general, John Ashcroft, in 2002, Mr.Kelly said a court ruling that would allow disclosure of tracing information to anyone who requests it under the Freedom of Information Act would be "catastrophic for law enforcement."

In addition to reversing the amendment, the Schumer legislation would require mandatory reporting of stolen guns and guns that were used in crimes to the ATF database. Plus, it would allocate more funds to the ATF and give the bureau more discretion over how many inventory inspections it conducts on gun dealers. The Tiahrt camp yesterday criticized Mr. Schumer's proposal and his claim that the amendment was passed in "the dark of night" without debate.

"I think it's outrageous that he was blaming Congressman Tiahrt for the death of a New York City police officer when the purpose of the original amendment was to save lives of law enforcement officers and was actually supported by the ATF and the Fraternal Order of Police," the communications director for Rep. Todd Tiahrt, of Kansas, Chuck Knapp, said. "This amendment passed in broad daylight in the House Appropriations Committee."

The chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, Chris W. Cox, attacked Mr. Schumer for trying to use the death of Officer Stewart to advance his political agenda.

"It's not surprising that Schumer is out pushing a political agenda right now after a tragic crime, and it's not surprising that he's trying to disregard good public policy," Mr. Cox said. "We'll continue to work with members of Congress and elected officials all over the country and provide them with the facts that counter the bogus claims of Senator Schumer and the gun control lobby."

Mayor Bloomberg also said yesterday in his weekly radio address that he hopes Stewart's death pushes lawmakers in Washington to keep illegal guns off New York's streets.

He said the city plans to pursue its legal battle against gun manufacturers - a fight that received a boost Friday when a Brooklyn federal judge, Jack Weinstein, ruled that the city could continue its lawsuit despite new federal legislation that bans suits against gun manufacturers. But Mr. Bloomberg said the city's effort would not be sufficient on its own - federal legislation was needed to keep New Yorkers safe from illegal guns: "Until Congress gets serious about shutting down the flow of illegal guns, it is only a matter of time before another tragedy occurs."