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Tuesday, July 27, 2004

american law enforcement priority: illegal guns

on june 28, 2001, us attorney general john ashcroft issued the following statement (quoted in part):

* A top priority of this administration and this Department of Justice is reducing gun crime by the vigorous enforcement of the nation’s gun laws. The Brady Act, enacted in 1994, requires that all federally licensed gun dealers perform a background check before selling a firearm. It helps us stop convicted felons and other dangerous people from buying guns easily. Today I am announcing a plan to improve the process of background checks on gun buyers that achieves two major objectives:

* The first is to increase prosecutions of those who attempt to purchase guns illegally.

* The second is to improve the accuracy, efficiency and reliability of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.

this month, the department of justice, office of the inspector general released report #I-2004-006 [pdf], which is a “Review of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosivesí Enforcement of Brady Act Violations Identified Through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.”

this give me an opportunity to review what happens when the attorney general declares an issue a “top priority” and directs his department to “increase prosecutions” and “improve accuracy, efficiency and reliability.”

first, let’s consider prosecutions. before we get into that, i want to point out that all of 2002 and 2003 occured at several months after the june 2001 directive from attorney general ashcroft.

Our review also found that few NICS cases are prosecuted. During CYs [calendar years] 2002 and 2003, only 154 (less than 1 percent) of the 120,000 persons who were denied during the NICS [national instant criminal background check system] background check were prosecuted.

During CYs 2002 and 2003, approximately 120,000 cases were referred by the FBI to the Brady Operations Branch. Of these cases, the ATF formally referred only 230 to the USAOs [us attorney’s offices], and the USAOs accepted 185, or 80 percent for prosecution. Of these cases, 154 were prosecuted.

less than 1 percent, indeed. more like .13%. so now we’re on the record, “top priority” department of justice prosecutorial work, based on a 1994 law (plenty of time to work out the kinks, i think) results in a .13% prosecution rate for people who followed the rules and went through the background check process and federally-licensed arms merchants. i am compelled to say that this is prosecutions, not convictions. the department of justice didn’t bother to prosecute 99.87% of the gun-purchasing criminals that they identified.

i’m definitely feeling safer with this sort of “vigorous enforcement.” i didn’t dig deep enough to figure out if this .13% prosecution rate was actually an increase over previous years, but i suppose if we trust john ashcroft, we have to believe it is.

i wish i could take those odds to vegas. now onto the efficiency and accuracy part:

During CYs 2002 and 2003, the FBI referred a total of 7,030 cases to the ATF in which persons that it identified as prohibited succeeded in obtaining firearms

more than 7000 people obtained firearms, illegally, through federally-licensed firearms dealers, despite a 3-day waiting period for a background check. the fbi did eventually realize that these people shouldn’t have guns, and told the atf to go get them back. and, according to the report, most of the weapons were retrieved.

with figures like those, it’s pretty easy to make a case that crime does pay.

it also kinda shoots (ahem) a few holes in the proposition that criminals only get guns illegally anyway – looks like 3500 criminals a year get guns at licensed dealers and with background checks.

posted by roj at 1:48 am