Lawyers, Guns and Money: Why the Tiahrt Amendment’s Ban on the Admissibility of ATF Trace Data in State Court Actions Violates the Commerce Clause and the Tenth Amendment
79 Pages Posted: 3 Mar 2010 Last revised: 19 Sep 2012
Date Written: March 2, 2010
The Tiahrt Amendment provides in relevant part that ATF trace data "shall be inadmissible in evidence, and shall not be used, relied on, or disclosed in any manner, nor shall testimony or other evidence be permitted based on the data, in a civil action in any State (including the District of Columbia) or Federal court..." This Amendment has hamstrung cities and localities which, in an effort to combat crime with civil litigation, have brought actions against the gun industry sounding in public nuisance, with trace data being crucial to the success of such actions. Because this Amendment regulates state as well as federal court proceedings, it is defensible, if at all, under Congress’ Commerce Clause power.
President Obama backed away from a campaign promise to repeal the Amendment, but the Amendment appears vulnerable to constitutional attack. In United States v. Lopez, the Supreme Court found that the Gun-Free School Zones Act (GFSZA) of 1990 exceeded Congress' Commerce Clause power because it was directed at criminal conduct, not commerce, and in Printz v. United States, it found that interim provisions in the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act violated the Tenth Amendment because they purported to direct state executive officers to participate in the administration of a federally enacted regulatory scheme. This article argues that the state court evidentiary provisions on the Tiahrt Amendment are not meaningfully different from the GFSZA and the interim Brady provisions, rendering them similarly indefensible under the Commerce Clause and the Tenth Amendment.
Keywords: Evidence, Commerce Clause, Tenth Amendment, Firearms, ATF, Tiahrt Amendment
JEL Classification: K14, K40, K41, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation