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What is The Tiahrt Amendment?

March 6, 2023
Mike Sampson

Many Gun Talk readers probably are unaware of the Tiahrt Amendment, but need to be as that topic is back in the legislative news. Pres. Biden’s March 14 executive order on enhancing firearms “universal background checks” adds a new twist.

If you have bought a firearm from a licensed dealer, your records may be available to the federal government. The amendment addresses that.

The Tiahrt Amendment first was added by Todd Tiahrt (R-KS) after whom it is named, to the 2003 Department of Justice federal appropriations bill. It was signed into the law as part of this bill on February 20, 2003.

The amendment broadened in October 2003 with the addition of two provisions banning the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) from requiring gun dealers to inspect their firearm inventories and requiring the FBI to destroy background check data within 24 hours.

In 2004, it was altered again, this time to limit access to gun trace data by government officials, and to ban the use of such data in firearms license revocations or civil lawsuits. In 2008, the language changed to allow BATFE to publish information about statistical trends in the manufacture, import, export, sales, and criminal use of firearms.

BATFE also can share some gun-trace data, individually or in bulk, with some law-enforcement agencies. Additionally, the law blocks any data legally released from being admissible in civil lawsuits against gun sellers or manufacturers.

Efforts to repeal the amendment have come from cities, mayors’ groups and some police departments and organizations. Opposition to repeal is present too, and the National Rifle Association says undoing the Tiahrt Amendment would lead to a rash of lawsuits against gun dealers.

On March 1 this year, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) pushed for “a renewed legislative effort,” or in other words reintroduced “The Gun Records Restoration and Preservation Act.” The bill, S.598, is titled “A bill to repeal certain impediments to the administration of the firearms laws.”

This bill has 12 Senate Democrat cosponsors. Similar legislation last Congressional session was in the Senate and House. U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) now backs this initiative in the House.

Menendez is a founding member of the Senate Gun Violence Prevention Caucus. Reportedly, the recent bill is a renewed legislative effort to increase the ability of local law enforcement to investigate and solve gun crimes, crack down on gun trafficking and negligent gun dealers, and allow researchers to finally study gun violence and its impact on communities across the nation.

As my personal note, the legislative focus as usual is “gun violence,” not “criminal violence.”

Specifically, The Menendez-Lee legislation would repeal:

·       The prohibition on the BATFE from releasing firearm tracing data for use by cities, states, researchers, litigants, and members of the public;

·       The prohibition on consolidating or centralizing records that gun dealers are required to maintain;

  • The requirement that the FBI destroy all approved gun purchaser records within 24 hours;
  • The prohibition on the BATFE from requiring gun dealers to submit their inventories to law enforcement to enforce the federal law requiring dealers to report the loss or theft of firearms.

Bearing Arms reports this legislation likely will go nowhere, but added,

“The progressive agenda can be better executed through the abolishment of these protections. A quicker path to gun registration would be accomplished, as well as remove important privacy protections that Americans enjoy. The potential chilling of a right could occur, as many would not want their data to be possibly accessible publicly.”

Republicans chose to look at things too. Congressman Michael Cloud, R-Texas, introduced a bill H.R. 1271 on March 1 this year to ensure firearm transfer records are not to be retained. The bill, “No Retaining Every Gun In a System That Restricts Your Rights Act,” would help mitigate governmental overreach when it comes to firearm possession and procurement tracking.

This bill would prevent the federal government from building a federal firearms registry.

Federal Firearm Licensees (FFLs) must give all of their firearm transaction records to the BATFE once they go out of business. The BATFE maintains all these records in the Out-of-Business Records Imaging System (OBRIS) database.

Up until President Biden took office, FFLs were allowed to destroy firearm transaction records after 20 years. However, a rule was finalized last year that would require FFLs to maintain all firearm transaction records in perpetuity instead of destroying them after 20 years.

There are valid concerns that the Biden administration is taking a backdoor approach to create a federal firearms registry, which led Congressman Cloud to launch an investigation into BATFE’s (OBRIS) database in 2021.

I am not a believer that anything in politics, particularly involving firearms, happens “by coincidence.” Pres. Biden took another step on such a registry on March 14 with his executive order on expanding “universal background checks” and “red flag laws,” supposedly to reduce “gun violence.” No mention of “criminal violence” however.

For a historical perspective, Biden signed a “bipartisan” gun-control bill on June 25, 2022, passed with Republican help, supposedly to reduce “gun violence.”

MSN reported, “The executive order aims to increase the number of background checks to buy guns, promote more secure firearms storage and ensure U.S. law enforcement agencies are getting the most out of a bipartisan gun control law enacted last summer.”

Ammoland reported that, “Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, was quick to react, and he did not spare words.

“Joe Biden is trying to sell this new gun control scheme the way he’s always done, by promising less violent crime and safer neighborhoods,” Gottleib said in a prepared statement, “but this plan isn’t going to accomplish either goal, and he knows it. This sleight-of-hand maneuver simply makes it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to purchase firearms, while creating the impression gun dealers are crooks and the industry is unregulated.”

The National Rifle Association added, “Complicating the picture was the enactment last summer of the misnamed Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA). The NRA opposed the legislation, warning that its vague language gave anti-gun officials nebulous authorities that could be abused to target law-abiding gun owners and firearm-related businesses.”

Concerning Biden’s order and background checks, I spoke with a local firearms dealer who said, “We do all this already to stay in business.”

As Gun Talk readers are aware, firearms registration in any form is a gateway to possible confiscation. Sharing your firearms information cannot be in anyone’s best interest either. But do share your views on this issue with your Congressional delegates. More to come on all this no doubt.

These two bills and Biden’s new order reemphasize the need for us to be informed on all antigun efforts to Stay safe, be prepared. ~ Mike

Mike Sampson
Mike now calls Northwestern Arkansas home, but has lived and worked in several states and internationally. He has been an independent contractor and consultant since 2006 specializing in risk management, emergency management and training. In addition to work as a law-enforcement planner and technical writer with the Boise, Idaho, Police Department, he has experience in journalism, crop and animal agriculture, dryland farming for 20 years in western Kansas, plant and animal diseases, pandemic influenza, agroterrorism, bioterrorism, food safety and healthcare marketing.

He has a journalism degree from the University of Missouri and has newspaper and agency writing and editing experience. At Washington State University in Pullman, he earned a master’s degree emphasizing adult education and communications.

While living in Lander, WY, Mike provided photographic coverage of the One-Shot Antelope Hunt for three years, and got to meet and accompany folks such as Chuck Yeager, Carroll Shelby, Buzz Aldrin, Dale Robertson and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf on their hunts. He also worked as an outfitter’s guide.


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