By Chris W. Cox
NRA-ILA Executive Director
If you pay any attention at all to policy debates in Washington, you’ve probably noticed that Congress and the president aren’t reaching agreement on much. Bills that pass in the House of Representatives aren’t coming up in the Senate. Bills that carry the president’s agenda in the Senate aren’t passing in the House. Part of that log jam is due to the difference in positions between the parties, and part of it is due to differences in how the two chambers structure debate. Some commentators condemn the resulting stalemate, while others argue that the Founders designed our system to produce exactly this result when the nation is so closely divided.
The one thing you can’t argue about is the end result. Major legislation simply is not passing through the Congress. The only bills it seems this Congress can pass are spending bills to keep the federal government functioning, and even those don’t usually pass until a deadline is looming.
Since the only bills that seem to move through the entire legislative process are spending bills, NRA-ILA puts a great deal of effort into protecting gun owners by urging the Congress to pass “riders” on those bills that help accomplish our agenda. It’s the legislative version of catching a ride on the only train out of town.
Thanks to these efforts, the most recent spending bill to pass the Congress and be signed by the president contained a dozen policy victories for gun owners. These fall into a few different groups.
First, there is the category of riders that are renewed every year. Some of these go back decades, but are still needed to plug loopholes in federal law that bureaucrats might manipulate to limit our rights. For example, the bill prohibits any change in the definition of “curio and relic” firearms, to protect the status of collectible firearms for future generations of collectors. It also prohibits arbitrary denials of curio and relic importation.
Several of the annual riders are needed to correct oversteps in regulatory authority. This category includes a prohibition on revoking or denying a federal firearms license due to the licensee’s low business volume, meaning that small dealers can’t be closed down simply because they don’t have the same sales volume as “big box” stores. The bill also prohibits any regulation mandating annual physical inventories by FFLs, a laborious and time-consuming process that’s generally unnecessary because of the detailed acquisition and disposition records that dealers must maintain. Another provision eliminates the need for an export permit to Canada to ship small firearms parts valued at less than $500, a pointless requirement imposed by the Clinton administration.
Another provision requires that any release of trace data by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) must include a disclaimer stating that the data can’t be used to draw broad conclusions about firearm-related crime, and another prohibits the transfer of any current BATFE authority to any other agency or department. This provision blocked an effort by the Clinton administration to transfer firearm enforcement to the FBI or Secret Service, and also keeps any administration from dodging the will of Congress by letting another agency implement policies that Congress has prohibited BATFE from implementing.
Yet another category of riders addresses newer problems. One prevents BATFE from blocking imports of shotguns with features the agency considers “non-sporting,” like adjustable stocks and extended magazine tubes. And another prohibits government agents from allowing the transfer of firearms to members of drug cartels. You’d think this should be unnecessary, but congressional investigations into the “Fast and Furious” scandal have proven otherwise.
As you can imagine, it’s a lot of work getting the Congress to pass these riders every year. So this year, we worked to change some of the traditional annual riders into permanent law, so they won’t need to be passed again. Most important is a prohibition on creating or maintaining a database of gun owners or guns. This rider blocks any centralized federal gun registry and dates back to 1979. A related provision now permanently prohibits the creation of a gun registry from gun dealer records that are surrendered to the government when a dealer goes out of business. While that may sound unnecessary to some, this provision has been needed since 1997, when anti-gun Clinton administration bureaucrats were trying to monitor gun owners through any means they could think of using. In a related vein, the final permanent rider prohibits retaining any information about the successful clearance of a background check for a gun purchase for more than 24 hours.
That’s a big list of accomplishments for a spending bill. And it goes to show that no matter how Congress chooses to do its business, your NRA-ILA will make sure that our Second Amendment rights are protected.
David A. Keene, PRESIDENT
James W. Porter II, FIRST VICE PRESIDENT
Allan D. Cors, SECOND VICE PRESIDENT
Wayne LaPierre, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT
Edward J. Land Jr., SECRETARY
Wilson H. Phillips Jr., TREASURER
Kayne Robinson, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, GENERAL OPERATIONS
Christopher W. Cox, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE FOR LEGISLATIVE ACTION