WASHINGTON -- In the wake of the shootings at Virginia Tech, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski is questioning whether a controversial gun law is making it more difficult for local and federal authorities to collaborate on investigations.
The Maryland Democrat is focusing on the so-called Tiahrt amendment, which limits the ability of local police to access or use gun trace information collected by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The restriction has been written into the spending bill that funds the ATF in each of the past four years.
Mikulski said yesterday that the appropriations subcommittee that she chairs would be asking the ATF whether the law is making it more difficult to investigate crimes such as the shootings in Blacksburg, Va.
"We want to be sure that it's not shackling or limiting what the feds can do and should do," Mikulski said. She did not say whether she would try to block the restrictions from being written into the spending bill this year.
Members of Congress have taken a cautious approach to discussing gun law so soon after the worst school massacre in U.S. history. The majority Democrats are deeply divided on the subject.
"I think the country and the Congress will have additional discussions, as is always the case after an incident, particularly one of this scope and tragic consequence," House Democratic leader Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland told reporters this week. "But right now, we are focused on the tragedy itself."
More than budgets
Mikulski spoke after her Appropriations subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science heard testimony from the heads of the ATF, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Marshals Service. She opened the hearing, which had been scheduled before the shootings to review the agencies' budget requests, with a reference to the "very grim and melancholy" circumstances.
"I want to know what Congress can do to help Virginia Tech and ATF's mission," she said. "Not just putting money in the federal checkbook, but also what ATF needs to do its job."
New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the co-founder of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, announced a national television and Internet campaign last week against the Tiahrt amendment. Bloomberg has sued gun dealers in Virginia and four other states that he says have supplied guns used in crimes committed in New York.
The National Rifle Association supports the Tiahrt Amendment, which its lobbying arm says protects the privacy of gun owners.