This week, the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee approved amendments blocking the use of federal funds to implement two controversial schemes by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and it rejected amendments proposing two of gun control groups’ other top priorities. In addition, the full House adopted a provision protecting gun possession on Army Corps of Engineers land.
First, on Wed. July 13, by a vote of 25 to 16, the committee approved Rep. Denny Rehberg’s (R-Mont.) amendment to the 2012 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill, prohibiting the BATFE from requiring firearm dealers in states bordering Mexico to file reports on certain rifle sales. The Justice Department had announced earlier in the week that the BATFE would soon begin requiring dealers to file the reports on individuals who buy two or more detachable-magazine semi-automatic rifles larger than .22 caliber within a period of five business days.
“For more than a decade, efforts to track rifle purchases and create a national gun registry have failed to gain support in Congress, so the ATF is working to implement these regulations using rules written by unelected bureaucrats,” Rep. Rehberg said. "I'm going to keep this government accountable to the people."
By a vote of 28-19, the committee also approved Rep. John Carter’s (R-Texas) amendment to stop BATFE from prohibiting the importation of shotguns that have one or more various features disliked by the BATFE, most of which are common to firearms used for protection or sport. Such features include adjustable stocks and extended magazine tubes. Rep. Carter, like Rep. Rehberg, is a member of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, and believes that “federal gun regulations often create burdens for law-abiding citizens and infringe upon constitutional rights provided by the Second Amendment.”
Anti-gun Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) was not so successful with her amendment to authorize the Attorney General to prohibit the possession of firearms by anyone whose name appears on the FBI’s secretive terrorist watchlist. Her proposal failed by a vote of 27-18, indicating that a majority on the committee understands the many problems with this idea. Chief among those is that 95 percent of people on the watchlist are already prohibited from possessing firearms in the U.S. because they are not citizens or legal residents of the United States. In March, a similar amendment pushed by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) was rejected by the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 21-11.
Joining Lowey in defeat was Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), whose amendment to gut the law that limits BATFE firearm trace data to law enforcement agencies failed by a vote of 27-20. Schiff alleged that the law—the Tiahrt Amendment, hated by gun control groups—had impeded the congressional investigation of BATFE’s "Fast and Furious" debacle. However, members of Congress leading that investigation disagreed. In a letter to House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform, and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “the Tiahrt provision has not impeded our investigation. The provision has not been cited by anyone from whom we have sought information as a reason to deny our requests.”
Next, in a Thurs. July 14 voice vote on the House floor, the House adopted an amendment to the Energy and Water Appropriations bill (H.R. 2354—which passed the House on July 15) prohibiting expenditures to enforce the Army Corps of Engineers regulation that bans gun possession on the 11 million acres of land and water the Corps manages. The amendment, sponsored by Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) and Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) will enhance self-defense rights for law-abiding Americans who hunt, camp and fish on Corps property. (Rep. Gibbs, joined by the other lawmakers, has previously sponsored H.R. 1865, the "Recreational Lands Self-Defense Act," to overturn the Corps' anti-gun rule.) Commenting on the amendment, Rep. Altmire noted, "It is important for sportsmen to be able to defend themselves while they legally hunt and fish on property that the Corps owns and operates, much of which is in rural areas without adequate law enforcement."
Though none of these votes settle the respective issues—the pro-gun amendments will still have to pass the Senate, and more anti-gun amendments are always possible—all are setbacks for gun control supporters who had been encouraged by talk of the Obama administration planning to bypass Congress and implement a variety of gun control schemes “under the radar.” The Brady Campaign also hoped the rifle sales reports requirement would be followed by a new “assault weapon” ban and a law prohibiting private sales of firearms, the latter of which President Obama alluded to in March. As all of these issues move through the legislative process, we'll keep you informed of new developments; in the meantime, if your U.S. Representative voted to support gun owners' rights on these votes, please be sure to say "Thank you!"