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Rod Watson: Stopping flow of illegal weapons should unite both sides in gun debate

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A march Saturday will focus on provisions in federal law that make it harder for authorities to stop the flow of illegal guns, like these seized recently by Buffalo police.

When the group Most Valuable Parents and its coalition partners march against gun violence on Saturday, they will do so against a backdrop of skyrocketing gunfire in Buffalo this year, with the number of people shot up 54% compared to the annual average over the past decade.

In marching from East Ferry Street and Fillmore Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Park at 2 p.m., they also will do so in a heavily African American neighborhood. The locale highlights the fact that Blacks in Buffalo are the vast majority of those who both pull the triggers and get hit by the bullets – despite having no gun factories anywhere around.

That’s why the march’s focus is the federal Tiahrt Amendments, named for the former Kansas congressman who sponsored them. Though somewhat loosened over time, those provisions still prohibit the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from giving the public – including cities, states, researchers and litigants – access to the gun trace data it collects.

In the words of one bill that would repeal the amendments, the provisions “hamstring law enforcement’s ability to solve and prosecute gun crimes, stop illegal gun trafficking and hold negligent gun dealers and owners accountable.”

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn shares the statistics on the rising number of shootings and homicides in the past two years.

While the amendments are federal, not local provisions, march organizers say they already have been talking with Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, who has been receptive. They also say that local activism can help build national momentum to eliminate the restrictions on sharing data so that more Americans know what’s going on.

“The thing we can do is just keep bringing awareness to the public” so that constituents elsewhere can press their own members of Congress to get behind the effort, said Mia Ayers-Goss, MVP executive director.

Ayers-Goss, who’s had two children wounded by gunfire, predicted the impact of repealing the amendments would be “huge” because it would provide policymakers with information they lack now, such as where illegal guns are coming from. That’s the first step in figuring out how to stop guns from getting into the hands of people those on all sides of the gun debate agree should not have them.

Notably – and before I could even ask her – Ayers-Goss emphasized that the group is “absolutely not” anti-gun.

“We’re not against guns........

© The Buffalo News

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