House Panel Retains Tiahrt, Angers Napoleonic Bloomberg
August 1, 2007
by Joseph P. Tartaro
The House Appropriations Committee on July 12 dealt a major blow to New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s campaign to gut the Tiahrt Amendment that limits public access to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) gun tracing data to bona fide police department investigations.
Bloomberg, with support from other mayors in his Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) coalition, had personally campaigned on Capitol Hill before the vote.
Newsday reported that Bloomberg’s aides threatened to run negative ads against committee Chairman David Obey (D-WI) if pro-gun legislation opposed by the mayor was passed in that committee, Obey claimed. The mayor’s office denied the charge.
Speaking during a committee session, Obey said Bloomberg aides told his staff that TV ads painting him as anti-law enforcement would be run in his district if the Tiahrt Amendment was passed. MAIG had already runs ads in the district of Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS).
“The Mayor’s staff came into my office, and rather than discuss the merits, they simply did what so many bullies do ... they threatened to run ads in my district if I didn’t bow to their wishes,” Obey said, according to a transcript provided to Newsday by his staff.
Interestingly, Obey also took issue with the National Rifle Association (NRA), saying the organization didn’t endorse him despite his votes against gun control legislation.
“I don’t react very well to bullying, and I don’t react very well to threats,” he said. “I wish I could find a way to vote against both sides of this issue.”
However, pro-gun rights Democrats, including Obey, teamed with House Republicans to block local governments and others from gaining routine access to gun-purchasing data that is available for local police investigations.
The powerful House committee defeated two attempts by gun control advocates to strip four-year-old restrictions on the use of ATF gun tracing data.
Kennedy, Moran Defeats
First, an amendment by Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) to reject Tiahrt’s language altogether lost by a voice vote.
Then, more than a dozen Democrats joined with all but two committee Republicans to defeat a amendment offered by Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) to ease the data sharing restrictions of Tiahrt but ensure that police officers’ names would not be compromised.
In the end, the committee approved a $53.6 billion bill for the departments of Commerce and Justice, as well as NASA and science programs, that includes the Tiahrt provision, with Obey voting with the majority.
Gun control advocates led by Bloomberg’s MAIG, anti-gun organizations and some police administrators say the gun sales data is essential to uncovering dealers who sell guns that disproportionately end up in the hands of criminals.
Gun rights advocates, led by Tiahrt, said mayors like Bloomberg want the data to sue out-of-state gun dealers and others in the firearms industry.
Tiahrt, the key sponsor of the restrictions on sharing gun trace data which have been in effect for four years, also said easing the restrictions could lead to the disclosure of police officers’ identities and other details to criminals.
“What the Tiahrt amendment does is protect those who protect us,” Tiahrt said.
The bill restricting release of the information, approved by the committee, must still be passed by the full House and reconciled with a similar Senate measure. But since the Senate bill is considered even more beneficial to the gun industry, the Bloomberg administration appeared resigned to defeat.
The vote came as the Bloomberg city administration was being strained by fights in Albany, throwing his agenda into uncertainty. Bloomberg had reportedly thrown a tantrum when the state government did not approve his proposal to charge people a daily fee for driving into the Manhattan borough of New York City. Bloomberg had wanted $8 a day for cars and $21 a day for commercial vehicles. Trades people had joined the public protest against the Bloomberg proposal.
But Bloomberg does have something to celebrate: new mandatory minimum sentences for carrying an illegal and loaded firearm in New York. The mayor’s message: carry an illegal, loaded weapon and be prepared to go to jail for three and a half years.
In a news conference on July 17, Bloomberg and the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City unveiled a new public service campaign to highlight the new penalties for illegal gun possession. The campaign, “Guns=Prison,” will feature posters calling attention to the sentence. The notices will be displayed on donated space on phone kiosks, in buses and subways and in restaurants, bars, and nightclubs.
The state’s new mandatory minimum sentence for illegal possession of a loaded handgun, increased to three and a half years at the mayor’s urging, is said to be the toughest such law in the country.
But Bloomberg and his allies in the anti-gun media are not likely to give up the fight. Their vitriol has no limit.
The day before the vote, The New York Times editorialized that “Now is the time for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to deliver on her pledge to reverse the gun lobby’s pernicious handcuffing of law enforcement officials trying to track the flood of illegal firearms.”
The Times concluded its pitch by saying “If the cynical retreat from gun control continues in the Capitol, voters will be wise to ask why this new Congress is any better than the old.”
The Albany Times Union joined the anti-gun chorus three days after the vote in an editorial headlined the “Gun lobby wins again.”
The Times Union, too, seems disturbed that the Democrats’ takeover of Congress has not produced a storm of new gun laws.
“It hardly matters that it’s the Democrats who now ostensibly control Congress,” the newspaper commented. “On the critical matter of fighting gun crime, it’s still the gun lobby that prevails.”
The Times Union went beyond castigating Tiahrt, though, by hitting Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL). Shelby’s amendment, which the Senate Appropriations Committee passed in June, would make it illegal for police officers to use federal gun trace data for anything except a specific criminal investigation.
Money and Power
If Bloomberg actually does run for president in 2008 as an independent, don’t just write him off as one more unsuccessful third-part spoiler. Bloomberg will undoubtedly have the support of newspapers like The Times and Times Union, and he will have his vast personal fortune, estimated at $5.5 billion, to outspend the candidates of the two major parties.
For those who don’t know much about Bloomberg, let me provide a little background, while noting that he is richer than Ross Perot was when he ran. Forbes magazine listed Bloomberg 34th in its list of the 400 richest men in America.
Bloomberg was born in Boston, MA, in 1942. He graduated from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, Phi Beta Kappa, with a bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1964. Later he earned an MBA at Harvard.
A former general partner of Salomon Brokers, he left that investment house to form his own company, Bloomberg LP to sell financial information to the world. He also set up and owns a business radio network.
He’s not afraid to spend his money on political campaigns as is evident from the big bucks he spend on his two runs for the office of mayor of New York. And he’s not afraid to spent it in other ways. He’s given away more than $300 million to John Hopkins, and millions more to other causes.
If Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani think they need to raise a $100 million or two for their White House campaigns, Bloomberg doesn’t need to worry at all. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons Times magazine listed him as one of the 100 most influential persons in the world.