I was not aware of this fact until I began writing this post, but there are Web sites dedicated to highlighting “dumb laws.” These sites tend to list obscure laws that were enacted at one time and never repealed. So, for example, in Ohio it is illegal for more than five women to live in a house. Having grown up with five older sisters and a mom, it now appears I came into this world in a criminal enterprise. But ideally the statute of limitations has run on this one, so I assume I’m safe.
But in all of these lists, I’ve never seen any mention of the Tiahrt Amendment. And that is inexplicable because it is a stunningly stupid law. I became aware of it recently in my efforts to assist with an open records request for information on guns confiscated in the city of Cincinnati.
Since 2014, Cincinnati police have confiscated almost 930 illegal guns. So one might think it interesting to see where these guns were sold. Imagine that there was a large number of arrests for underage drinking in some location. And imagine if you could determine where those kids were buying their booze. And suppose data indicated a high percentage of the sales to underage drinkers was at one or two stores. That would probably allow police to target those stores and maybe put a stop to the illegal sales. Any part of that hypothetical not sound reasonable?
Now, instead of 12 packs of Nati Lite, substitute guns that you know, kill people. Same logic applies, right? That’s a trick question because logic rarely comes in to play when talking about gun legislation. The data on gun sales exists. The Department of Alcohol Firearms and Tobacco requires dealers to report it. And it would be easy for the public to find the information via a Freedom of Information Act request. But that’s where the stupid Tiahrt Amendment rears its ugly head.
The Tiahrt Amendment, which was originally slid into an ATF spending bill in 2003 essentially puts that data off limits to the public. And I mean way off limits. The Amendment prohibited the ATF from spending any money to release any gun trace or sales data in response to a FOIA request. Under the Tiahrt Amendment, ATF is prevented from disclosing valuable crime gun data to the press, advocacy organizations, and scholars who are studying the problem of guns and crime.
Apparently, that restriction wasn’t enough to satisfy the gun lobby, because later on, the Amendment was expanded so that the data was not subject to subpoena in a civil action, nor could it be used as evidence in any civil action in any state. Typically, courts are allowed to make their own rules about what evidence can or can’t be introduced into evidence, or discovered in a civil proceeding. It’s called “separation of powers.” Our founding fathers adopted this framework for a reason. But apparently the gun lobby loves the Second Amendment so ardently, they tend to gloss over other parts ofThe Constitution which they purport to love so much.
And let’s be clear. There is nothing in the Second Amendment that prevents the government from maintaining data on gun sales, nor prevents the public from being informed. The Tiahrt Amendment is motivated not by principle, but by sheer self-interest and callousness. It is a law that does not merely seek to rewrite history, but to rewrite reality itself. And it belongs at the top of any list of dumb laws.