(CNSNews.com) - Legislation expected before the U.S. House this week would give the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) greater flexibility to punish federally licensed firearms dealers and limit the agency's actions at gun shows. Another bill would forbid the ATF to release so-called crime gun trace data to cities, counties or states for use in lawsuits against the gun industry.
In a member alert emailed to the organization's supporters over the weekend, the National Rifle Association (NRA) called for "urgent action" regarding the two proposals.
"The House of Representatives will soon vote on two critically important NRA-supported bills," the email stated. "It is imperative that you contact your U.S. Representative at (202) 225-3121, and urge him or her to VOTE FOR H.R. 5092 and H.R. 5005 when they are brought to the House floor!" (Emphasis in original)
Both bills have been passed out of committee and are expected to be considered in the full House as early as this week.
Cybercast News Service first reported in August 2005 on the accusations that the ATF was targeting law abiding citizens at gun shows, attempting to discourage participation in the events. ATF denied those allegations, but congressional hearings sparked by the Cybercast News Service reports uncovered additional claims of wrongdoing.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Modernization and Reform Act of 2006 (H.R. 5092) would restrict the ATF's gun show enforcement activities in an effort to prevent similar actions in the future.
/sa240 According to the NRA, the bill would also "improve [ATF's] process for punishing the few [federally licensed firearms dealers] who violate the law."
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the anti-gun group that promotes stricter regulation of the firearms industry, opposes the bill.
"If enacted, H.R. 5092 would make it virtually impossible for ATF to shut down rogue gun dealers who repeatedly violate federal law," a letter from the Brady Center to members of Congress claims. "It would largely replace ATF's revocation powers with minimal fines and temporary license suspensions that ATF could impose only if it proved that a dealer deliberately intended to violate federal law."
But that statement contradicts the anti-gun group's own published strategy.
In a policy paper complaining about actions of Congress that allegedly "handcuffed law enforcement," the Brady Center's sister organization -- the Brady Campaign -- argued that Congress should, "remove limits on ATF's ability to fine and suspend dealers."
"When faced with a dealer who has violated the law, ATF only has the option trying to revoke the dealer's license, which may take several years and expensive court litigation, or taking no action at all," the Brady Campaign complained. "ATF generally may not impose any fines or temporary license suspensions on gun dealers.
"ATF should be given additional authority to fine or suspend licensees it believes have violated the law and," the Brady Campaign wrote.
H.R. 5092, which passed the House Judiciary Committee on a voice vote, would allow intermediate fines and license suspensions against gun dealers who knowingly violate the law, but the legislation does not force ATF to take action against dealers who make purely technical errors, as many anti-gun groups had demanded. The bill has 149 co-sponsors.
The Firearms Corrections and Improvements Act (H.R. 5005) is a catch-all bill designed to make permanent numerous regulations that have been signed into law over the years at the end of the appropriations process. As Cybercast News Service previously reported, a coalition of anti-gun groups came together on the anniversary of 9/11 to condemn the legislation and to try to tie its defeat to counter-terrorism efforts.
"After 9/11, we criticized law enforcement and intelligence agencies for not connecting the dots," said Joe Vince, former director of ATF's Crime Gun Analysis branch. "So what are we doing now taking the dots off the paper?"
Vince is now president of Crime Gun Solutions LLC, a for profit business that, according to its website, works with "city law departments, State Attorney Generals' Offices, major police departments, and private law firms in an effort to assist them in acquiring, analyzing, and utilizing crime-gun information."
Vince believes law enforcement resources should be deployed against "the source of the guns" misused by criminals "in the same manner that we are taking our fight to the source of terrorism."
"In this post-9/11 world, police must have all the tools at their disposal to keep our communities safe," he added. "But if Congress passes this bill, it will have chosen to side with criminals and terrorists instead of law enforcement."
While critics argue that the bill would prevent the ATF from sharing gun trace data with law enforcement agencies the plain language of the bill belies that claim.
H.R. 5005 states that ATF trace data "shall not be admissible as evidence, and testimony or other evidence relying on the information shall not be admissible, in any civil action in a State or Federal court, or in any administrative proceeding other than a proceeding commenced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives." (Emphasis added.)
Attorney and firearms law expert Richard Gardiner told Cybercast News Service in a previous interview that "the bill says information can be released to law enforcement agencies -- federal, state or local -- in connection with a bona fide criminal investigation or prosecution, so law enforcement still would have access to the records if they request it."
The Firearms Corrections and Improvements Act passed the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 21 to 11 and has 132 co-sponsors.
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