Can anyone answer this question: Why doesn’t the U.S. government aggressively enforce existing federal gun laws?
It seems quite obvious to everyone, at least everyone in the gun community, that before we start down a path of reforming the nation’s gun laws we should make sure federal prosecutors have the resources and funding they need to crackdown on all gun crimes, especially if we as a society are serious about curbing firearm-related violence.
It’s not a partisan solution. It’s just common sense. And as a matter of fact, throughout his first term in office and while he was campaigning in 2007-2008, President Obama propagated that very message to the public, as Policy Mic reported earlier this year.
On July 12, 2007, at an NAACP Presidential Primary Forum, Obama was asked the following question: How would you address gun violence that continues to be the #1 cause of death among African-American men?
In addition to rooting out straw purchasers and “unscrupulous gun dealers,” Obama said, “We know what to do. We’ve got to enforce the gun laws that are on the books.”
Bingo! We’ve got to enforce the gun laws that are on the books — so, why aren’t we doing it?
As Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) noted while questioning acting Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives B. Todd Jones at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, of the 48,321 cases of illegal firearm purchases in 2010, only 44 were prosecuted by federal prosecutors.
An FBI report from 2009 showed a similar reluctance to go after individuals who lied on their federal background check application or National Instant Background Check System or NICS form. Of the 71,000 instances where people were caught lying, the Department of Justice prosecuted only 77 cases.
When one examines the regional impact of these numbers, a trend emerges. That is, cities that are reluctant to enforce federal gun laws have problems with gun crime. Chicago, which was dubbed the murder capital of America in 2012 with over 500 homicides, ranked 89th out of 90 U.S. Attorney districts, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which evaluates the performance of federal law enforcement agencies.
To put that number in better perspective, in 2011, federal prosecutors in Chicago only tried 63 gun-related cases, an embarrassingly low number considering the Windy City’s violence epidemic.
Again, the question: Why isn’t the federal government, the Obama administration, the DOJ doing more to go after gun-related crime?
Well, one explanation (or excuse, depending on one’s perspective) is that federal prosecutors have to be judicious with resources because there’s only so much to go around. As Jones said at the hearing, “Prosecutorial resources are thin.”
To help address this shortage, Cruz along with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced the “Protecting Communities and Preserving the Second Amendment Act” last April when the Senate was voting on various gun control bills.
Unlike those other bills which would have placed more limitations on gun ownership, this bill’s primary purposes were to “improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, increase resources for prosecutions of gun crime, address mental illness in the criminal justice system, and strengthen criminal law by including straw purchasing and illegal firearm trafficking statutes.”
It failed to clear the Senate, receiving 52 votes; eight short of what it needed to overcome the 60-vote threshold following a filibuster.
Another reason the government gives is that in cities that have tough gun laws (Chicago, New York) state prosecutors handle most of the cases, which removes the burden from the federal government. But even that’s true, one has to wonder if these criminals are being prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
On this point, National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre showed, in a recent op-ed, just how severe the existing laws are as it relates to felons with guns:
Everything real violent criminals do to acquire a firearm is already a serious federal felony. Under federal law, lying to a licensed dealer, lying on the form 4473, and straw sales are all federal felonies that are almost never prosecuted. Holder’s Justice Department calls them “paper violations.” Yet those are the very crimes that they say demand a “universal background check” — a national registration scheme — for all of us.
So let me cite — from a federal public defender fact sheet — a few of the existing federal statutes dealing with armed criminals once they have their guns. I’ll give you the prison term first along with the citations in United States Code (U.S.C.).
• Ten years — 18 U.S.C. section 922(g) — for possession of a firearm or ammunition by a felon, fugitive, or drug user … And possession means touching a gun, any gun, handgun, rifle or shotgun. Any firearm that Dianne Feinstein would ban for us, is already an illegal gun for violent criminals.
• Ten years — 18 U.S.C. section 922(j) — for possession of a stolen firearm.
• Ten years — 18 U.S.C. section 922(i) — for shipment or transport of a stolen firearm across state lines.
• Ten years — 18 U.S.C. section 924(b) — for shipping, transporting or receipt of a firearm across state lines with intent to commit a felony.
• Five to 30 years consecutive mandatory minimum sentences — 18 U.S.C. section 924(a)(1)(A) — for carrying, using, or possessing a firearm in connection with a federal crime of violence or drug trafficking.
• The death penalty or up to life imprisonment — 18 U.S.C. section 924(j) — for committing murder while possessing a firearm in connection with a crime of violence or drug trafficking.
• Fifteen years mandatory minimum — 18 U.S.C. section 924(e) — for a “prohibited person” who has three prior convictions for drug offenses or violent felonies.
• Ten years — 18 U.S.C. section 924(g) — for interstate travel to acquire or transfer a firearm to commit crimes.
Think about these penalties, particularly the first one LaPierre listed. Up to 10 years in prison for a felon, fugitive or drug user who just handles a firearm. That’s incredibly harsh, but justifiable in a majority of scenarios.
Now, a few more questions: If those laws were actively enforced and the threat of going to jail for 10 years was a real, legitimate threat, would Chicago still be awash in violence? Would armed gangsters and thugs still freely roam the streets on the city’s South Side (see Vice documentary below)?
Probably not — which brings us back to where we started: Why doesn’t the U.S. government aggressively enforce existing federal gun laws?