Mayors call on Obama to strengthen enforcement of country’s gun laws

A group of more than 600 mayors are calling on President Obama to strengthen and increase enforcement of the nation’s gun laws in the wake of a controversial gun tracking operation that may have contributed to the death of at least one federal agent.

The group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, is pushing Obama to lift a rider known as the Tiahrt Amendment from the fiscal year 2012 budget proposal. By removing the rider, lawmakers would gain access to records of guns sold through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives’ operation "Fast and Furious," which oversaw the sale of weapons to known and suspected straw purchasers for Mexican drug cartels.

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With the Tiahrt Amendment in place, the chief congressional investigators - Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee - have had to rely on data from Mexico, said the group in a letter sent to Obama on Friday.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who chair the group, also pushed for Obama to expand mandatory reporting requirements for gun dealers who sell multiple assault rifles and variants. By increasing the requirements beyond the currently mandated multiple handgun purchase laws, it would cut down on the number of AK-47 and AR-15 variant rifles that flow to Mexican drug cartels, the group said.

“It is time to put it into effect to help ATF and other law enforcement identify individuals who may be buying guns like AK-47s and AR-15s by the carload and driving them south for sale to the violent drug gangs who are murdering thousands of people and destabilizing the entire border region,” they wrote.

Bloomberg and the coalition of mayors has been pushing for the overhaul of the Tiahrt Amendment - named for its initial sponsor in 2003, Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kansas) - for the past four years, saying that the rider's restrictions on access to gun trace information makes it harder for law enforcement officials to enforce gun laws.

The group of mayors is also asking the Obama administration to enforce the sharing between federal agencies of information about individuals who are not allowed to buy firearms, as well as closing gun show loopholes that don’t require background checks for buyers.

They pointed to the January shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in which the alleged shooter was allowed to purchase two handguns despite being rejected from the Army because of drug abuse in 2008.

The mayors' letter is a follow-up to a letter they sent Obama in March laying out 40 recommendations for strengthening the country's gun laws.

Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have called for a similar strengthening of gun laws in the wake of operation Fast and Furious.

In a report released last month, ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) recommended increasing criminal penalties for illegal straw purchasers, saying that an ATF special agent told the committee that convicted straw purchasers typically only receive probation. If the punishment was made stronger, officials could use the threat of it to leverage more cooperation from the accused straw purchaser, the agent said.

The report also recommended enacting a statute that would officially criminalize unlicensed gun trafficking. Citing a committee interview with another ATF agent, the report states that under current law, officials are forced to try and charge accused gun traffickers with paperwork violations.

Last month Democratic Sens. Diane Feinstein (Calif.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) released a similar report pushing for the closing of gun show loopholes and mandatory reporting requirements for the sale of multiple rifles.