FIREARMS INFORMATION USE ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - March 13, 2008)
Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. President, I rise today for two purposes. One is to shed light on the serious problem of gun violence that afflicts our Nation, and the other is to introduce legislation which would assist law enforcement in their efforts to address this growing scourge that affects countless Americans every day.
Each and every year, tens of thousands of Americans have their lives senselessly cut short because of gun violence. In 2004, 29,569 Americans were killed by guns. This figure is higher than the number of deaths our military has suffered in any year of any war since World War II--and it translates to over 81 gun deaths per day--over 3 deaths per hour. Tragically, statistics show that by the time I finish this speech, another American will have lost his or her life to gun violence.
Gun violence does not discriminate; it affects rich and poor, young and old, the innocent and guilty alike. It is not a red or blue State issue, but an American crisis that concerns our Nation as a whole. Not a single American is immune to the tragic reach of gun violence.
Our brave law enforcement officers risk their lives every day to stop gun violence before it occurs, but they cannot do it alone. They need resources--not just funding and equipment although those are critically important--but also information and intelligence. That is why the ATF collects and compiles gun trace data--to provide crime gun information to law enforcement agencies, federally firearm licensees, FFL, the public, Congress, and State and local authorities so they may better understand and prevent gun violence.
It goes without saying that the more we understand a problem and its sources, the more proficient we will be in our ability to solve it. That is particularly true when talking about guns that are used to commit crimes. In fact, one study has shown that 1.2 percent of gun dealers sell 57 percent of guns later traced to criminal investigations.
My home State of New Jersey has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, yet hundreds, if not thousands, of off-limit customers, such as those under age or those with violent criminal records, wind up with such weapons each month. And the overwhelming majority of guns used to commit crimes in our State's cities were originally sold in compliance with the law in other States.
In fact, a large majority of the guns used to commit crimes in Jersey City, Newark, and Camden traveled up the east coast along I-95--the ``Iron Pipeline''--and therefore don't fall under New Jersey's gun laws. This is truly a paradox that has not only frustrated law enforcement agents, but elected officials too.
According to ATF reports released in July 2002, 85 percent of the traced guns used to commit crimes in Jersey City and Newark, and 77 percent of those used in Camden, were originally purchased outside of New Jersey. And more than 67 percent of crime guns recovered in Jersey City were originally purchased more than 250 miles away, with 20 percent originating in South Carolina.
This is exactly the type of information that assists law enforcement officials in placing local crime guns in a regional and national strategic enforcement context and would allow Federal, State, and local elected officials to develop national, regional, and local strategic responses to gun crime.
Unfortunately, every year for the past few years some of my colleagues from the other side of the aisle have slipped a provision into law to prohibit the release of this information to anyone other than `` a Federal, State, or local law enforcement agency or a prosecutor solely in a criminal investigation or prosecution.'' This amendment effectively prohibits information from reaching Congress, and State and local authorities, and the public. The practical impact of the Tiahrt amendment is that gun trace data is rarely shared and an important law enforcement tool goes largely unused.
The Tiahrt amendment also limits how Federal, State and local law enforcement agencies can use crime gun trace data they are able to obtain. The Tiahrt provisions restrict use of the information to retroactively investigate crimes that have already been committed. Using the data to proactively prevent gun crimes from happening is not permitted.
This makes no sense. We should be using every tool we have to prevent the deaths and injuries that result from gun violence--not waiting until they happen and then figuring out the hows and whys.
Unfortunately, here in Washington, every year the Republican Congress and President Bush bow to the gun lobby in Washington and sacrifice the safety of our streets. They do this by including the Tiahrt provisions.
Denying police access to critical information about crime gun traces helps no one but the bad guys. Our families' safety should never take a backseat to the demands of radical interest groups seeking only to further their own narrow agenda. Congress needs to pass my legislation--instead we need to stand up to President Bush and the gun lobby, and stand up for our families.
Far too often in this country, innocent Americans, including children, are tragically caught in the crossfire of gun violence. Far too often these crimes may have been prevented with stricter gun control regulations. As a Senator, it is my solemn duty to do everything within my power to protect the American people from the ravages of gun violence. Addressing this grave issue should not be hampered by divisive, partisan bickering. We must undertake a bipartisan approach to reach an effective solution to this problem that is concerned solely with the welfare and safety of the public.
That is why I am introducing legislation to make this gun crime data public again. It will not only help law enforcement prosecute gun crimes, but will also increase public awareness about where these guns originated. I urge my colleagues to support this commonsense legislation.