Guns & Money
In 2005, President George W. Bush signed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act into law. 15 U.S.C. §§ 7901-7903. The PLCAA or the “Gun Protection Act” as it is often called, passed both the Senate and the House with relative ease. The PLCAA makes gun dealers and gun manufacturers immune from lawsuits for negligence when their products are used for criminal purposes.
Prior the PLCAA’s passage, lawsuits were successfully brought against what the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence calls “bad apple” gun dealers. Per the Brady Center’s statistics, approximately 5% of these “bad apple” gun dealers supply almost 90% of the guns used in crimes in America. Interestingly, research undertaken in 1995 had 1% of gun dealers supplying 57% of the guns used in crimes. Under the PLCAA, these dealers are immune for suit if they are negligent or reckless in their sale of firearms. For example, a dealer who sells a gun to an individual without completing the appropriate background check is immune to a civil lawsuit under the PLCAA.
Normally, federal data regarding crimes is available when one makes a Freedom of Information Act request. Under the Clery Act, for example, colleges must keep and disclose information about crime on and near their campuses. They face fines when they fail to report and alert students.
In stark contrast to this, the Tiahrt Amendment expressly prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosive’s National Tracing Center from releasing information from its gun tracing database unless it is within the context of a criminal investigation. The request must be made by a law enforcement agency or a prosecutor. The Tiahrt Amendment further stymies any efforts to obtain the information for other purposes, as it bans the use of the information for civil lawsuits and for academic research. The data, which shows how often a gun sold by a dealer ends up connected to a crime, is effectively hidden from Americans. Law enforcement officials, who could previously access the data to determine where guns were coming from, can now only access the information for specific tracing purposes. Claims that the ATF had supported the amendment were rebutted by ATF’s director, Bradley Buckles.
Many organizations have called for the repeal of both the PLCAA and the Tiahrt Amendment. The National Rifle Association has stated that the release of the tracing data had unfairly demonized legal gun sales and continues to lobby to prevent the repeal of the PLCAA and the Tiahrt Amendment.
If the PLCAA and Tiahrt Amendment are repealed, the Brady Center and victims of gun violence will once turn to the civil courts, hoping to hold the bad apples responsible for their actions.