How The National Rifle Association Frustrates Enforcement Of Federal Gun Laws

National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, who writes a regular column for the NRA's America's 1st Freedom magazine, complained about the enforcement rate of federal gun laws during an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, even as his organization lobbies for policies that make these laws harder to administer.

During his March 24 appearance, LaPierre stated, “If you're the President and the Vice President and the Attorney General, and your job is to enforce these laws ... and you don't do it, you bear some responsibility”:

Despite the NRA's attempts to hinder enforcement of federal gun laws, a recent report shows positive trends in federal gun prosecutions. According to the Transactional Records Clearing House, a Syracuse University program that tracks federal data, gun prosecutions increased in 2012 and "[d]espite the recent ups and downs, federal [weapons] prosecutions today are a great deal higher than in the pre-9/11 era."

Even so, the NRA has a lengthy track record of frustrating federal gun law enforcement, primarily through attempts to weaken the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the federal law enforcement agency responsible for initiating investigations into federal gun law violations.

Over “A Dozen” NRA-Backed Riders Frustrate Federal Law Enforcement

recent report by the Center for American Progress (CAP) details how NRA-backed riders -- which are non-germane amendments routinely inserted into “must pass” spending bills -- have the effect of “chipping away at the federal government's ability to enforce the gun laws and protect the public from gun crime.”

CAP explained that “more than a dozen appropriations riders passed each year, typically without any discussion or debate, which significantly limit the federal government's ability to regulate the firearms industry and fight gun-related crime.” Among the NRA-supported riders is one that prohibits the ATF from centralizing gun sale records, meaning that it can take weeks to trace a firearm used in a crime.

The NRA's Tiahrt Amendment Continues To Impose Nonsensical Restrictions On ATF Action

The NRA is also a staunch supporter of the Tiahrt amendment, which has appeared in appropriations legislation for a decade. The amendment originally placed restrictions on how law enforcement could use trace data from the ATF in a way that hampered the ability of law enforcement to identify and investigate illegal firearm trafficking operations. While the amendment has been modified to remove many of the law enforcement restrictions, newer versions of the Tiahrt Amendment continue to create roadblocks for civil cases against firearm dealers who work in concert with traffickers.

The Tiahrt Amendment package also affects the ATF's ability to investigate rogue gun dealers in the form of a rider that prohibits the ATF from requiring gun dealers to perform an annual inventory of their firearms. Without an inventory requirement, it is difficult for the ATF to identify dealers who regularly engage in unlawful sales.

National Public Radio identified the NRA in a March 21 article as being the “driving force” behind a recent effort in Congress to make some of the these riders permanent. Currently, the riders are only binding on the ATF for the period of time that the appropriations legislation covers.

There Has Not Been A Full-Fledged ATF Director Since 2006, Largely Because Of The NRA

The NRA also routinely blocks efforts to appoint a permanent ATF director. According to a report by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, there has not been a full-fledged ATF director since 2006, when Congress, at the behest of the NRA, changed federal law to require ATF directors to be confirmed by the Senate. Since 2006, the post has been held by a series of acting and interim directors.

As the Brady Center notes, “without a leader, ATF's ability to stop gun trafficking by corrupt gun dealers is significantly curtailed. As a body without a head, ATF lacks a leader who can decide on strategic plans and broad strategies, who can marshal the agency's resources to achieve its objectives, and who can fight to obtain the resources it needs.” In 2010, President Obama nominated ATF Denver division director Andrew Traver for the position of ATF director, but because of NRA opposition, Traver remains unconfirmed.

The NRA Has Supported Legislation To Make Prosecution Of Corrupt Gun Dealers “All But Impossible”

The length to which the NRA will go to interfere with the ATF's ability to investigate corrupt gun dealers and criminal buyers is substantial. In 2010, the NRA supported legislation that would have allowed ATF to only impose sanctions on gun dealers that “willfully” commit violations of ATF rules, meaning that corrupt dealers could attempt to avoid prosecution by claiming that their violations were mistakes and not intentional.

According to a Washington Post editorial, this and other provisions in the legislation would mean that "[t]he bar for action is set so high that it would make it all but impossible for the ATF to press forward with any case." The legislation was reported by the Post in September 2010 as making “headway,” but the bill never reached the Senate floor.