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Republicans wield power of the purse to block Obama's gun regs

Legislation to fund the Justice Department is chock full of GOP-backed language designed to keep the Obama administration from moving ahead with gun control regulations.

The Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill, which cruised through the House this week, contains several provisions directed squarely at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) rule-making authority.

Under the measure, the ATF would be prohibited from banning certain forms of armor-piercing ammunition or blocking the importation of military-style shotguns. Another provision would block federal agents from creating what critics say is a gun registry.

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Critics of the administrations efforts to impose new federal firearm restrictions see the GOP Congress’s power of purse as their best chance to block new rules.

 “We need to stop the Obama administration from making end-run around Congress on gun control,” National Rifle Association spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said.

The bill, approved in the House by a 242-183 tally, would prohibit the Justice Department from using any of the money to enforce certain gun regulations.

Among them is the ATF’s proposed — and later withdrawn — ban on certain forms of armor-piercing ammunition used in AR-15 rifles.  Gun control advocates cheered the agency for moving forward with the rule in February.

“These concealed weapons serve only one purpose: To kill human beings wearing body armor,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.).

“We have a responsibility to protect our police and our communities from these unreasonably dangerous weapons,” he added.

But the effort met with fierce blowback from the gun lobby and congressional Republicans, who noted that the ammunition is popular among hunters and contended that the proposed regulation would infringe on the Second Amendment.

Eventually, the ATF relented and pulled back the bullet ban, but the agency left the door open to reconsider the rule in the future.

To make sure this doesn’t happen again, Republicans included multiple provisions, authored by Reps. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), in the bill barring future action. 

Hudson warned the ATF to keep its “hands off our guns.”

But Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said the move was irresponsible, since it could derail the bill in the Senate, imperiling all Justice Department programs.

“Once again, the Republicans are governing dangerously by offering a poison pill amendment that jeopardizes the safety of our law enforcement and first responders,” Israel said. “Congress should be passing common-sense gun safety laws to save lives and keep our men and women in uniform safe — not caving to the reckless demands of the gun lobby.”

There is growing debate over the definition of armor-piercing ammunition.

Republicans are also upset about a controversial ATF requirement that gun owners disclose their race and ethnicity when purchasing a gun.

The government would no longer be able to require such racial disclosures under a provision from Rep. Diane BlackDiane BlackTrump to pick Rep. McMorris Rodgers for Interior secretary Messer eyes challenging Donnelly for Indiana Senate seat Lobbying World MORE (R-Tenn.).

The ATF should be “colorblind” when it comes to guns, she said.

“We all want to see weapons kept out of the hands of criminals, but an individual’s race and ethnicity has nothing to do with their ability to safely own and operate a firearm,” Black said.

Republicans are also pushing provisions that would stop the ATF from creating what critics say is a gun registry for rifles.

The ATF would be prohibited from continuing its current practice of collecting information about certain semi-automatic rifles that are sold near the southwest border. The agency says it uses this information to stop the flow of assault rifles to Mexican drug cartels.

The so-called “Fast and Furious” provision would block federal agents from giving guns to drug cartels as part of sting operations.