Pro-gun rights Democrats teamed up with House Republicans yesterday to block local governments and law-enforcement agencies from gaining routine access to gun-purchasing data.
The House Appropriations Committee defeated two attempts by gun control advocates to strip four-year-old restrictions on the use of information from Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that traces gun sales. The votes were a victory for the National Rifle Association and came despite the Democratic takeover of Congress in January.
The committee's emotional debate often focused on broader gun rights issues rather than the matter at hand, involving when the bureau can share such information.
Gun control advocates 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 Rep. Todd Tiahrt, Kansas Republican, said mayors such as New York City's Michael R. Bloomberg want the data to sue out-of-state gun dealers.
Mr. Tiahrt, the key sponsor of the restrictions on sharing gun trace data, 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," he said.
Pro-gun advocates say the data-sharing restrictions protect gun owners' privacy. But Mr. Bloomberg and other mayors contend they hamper law-enforcement authorities' ability to trace illegal guns and arrest weapons traffickers.
"This handcuffs the cops, not the criminals," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Maryland Democrat.
More than a dozen Democrats, most from rural districts, joined with all but two committee Republicans to defeat a bid by Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, Rhode Island Democrat, to ease the data sharing restrictions but ensure that police officers' names would not be compromised.
Earlier, a bid by Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, to reject the Tiahrt measure altogether lost by a voice vote.
The mayors say gun tracing data helps police departments determine the source, buyer and distribution of illegal guns.
Under Mr. Bloomberg, New York City has sued out-of-state gun dealers in an attempt to reduce the flow of illegal guns into New York. The NRA-backed restrictions block cities from getting ATF data for such suits.
The committee chairman, Rep. David R. Obey — a liberal Democrat representing a rural Wisconsin district — said the issue was only marginally related to gun rights. He opposed the efforts to ease the data restrictions.
Mr. Obey said Mr. Bloomberg's representatives met with his staff and threatened to run television ads attacking him.
Lindsay Ellenbogen, a Bloomberg aide, denied any threats. Mr. Bloomberg is co-chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Gun Sales, which has run ads in a few congressional districts.
Yesterday's result continued a run of back luck on Capitol Hill for gun control advocates. They have lost many times since a Democratic-controlled Congress pushed through a ban on some semi-automatic rifles in 1994. Many Democrats credited the ban for losses in rural seats as the party took a drubbing at the polls that year.
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