According to a government report released last week, almost everyone sentenced for a gun crime last year in federal court was already legally barred from possessing a gun. 

The 46-page report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, a bipartisan agency of the Department of Justice, released on July 14, covered firearms offenders prosecuted and sentenced in federal court during fiscal year 2021. Among the findings of the report is that most offenders sentenced – 88.8 percent – were prohibited from possessing a firearm in the first place. 

Under current law, prohibited persons include those with prior felony convictions, aliens unlawfully in the United States, fugitives from justice, mental defectives, or are an "unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance." In short, all the questions most folks answer "no" to on ATF Form 4473. 

"Most of the 6,549 offenders were prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition because they had a prior felony conviction (79.0%)," noted the report. Further, of those prohibited possessors who were sentenced, half were also convicted last year of another offense or "engaged in aggravating conduct."  

Almost a third of those sentenced had a stolen gun or one with an altered or obliterated serial number. This jives with past surveys by the DOJ that found that less than one percent of those in prison had previously obtained their firearms through normal retail sales, instead seeking guns via illicit "street" sources. This also somewhat deflates the oft-touted claim by anti-gun groups and politicians that so-called "bad apple" FFL dealers are responsible for feeding guns to criminals.

In another interesting note from the report, while gun crimes can carry up to 10 years in prison, the average sentence was only 45 months, a level that fell below even the guideline minimum of 49 months.

Another under-sentenced crime was for offenses involving firearms trafficking and straw purchases or false statements on 4473s, with up to 58 percent of such cases sentenced below the guideline range. While the guideline on straw purchases/false statements is 51 months, the average found in 2021 was only 37 months. This is also not surprising as the legal system in the past has let even egregious straw purchasers tied to murderers off with relatively light sentences

The firearms industry supports a program, "Don't Lie for the Other Guy," that aims to deter and prevent such straw purchasing. 

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