The Justice Department and a private group are disputing the reach of the Bush administration’s stepped-up prosecution of gun crimes. Americans for Gun Safety says in a study being issued today that only 2 percent of federal gun crimes resulted in prosecutions, the New York Times reports. Justice Department officials said they had made a “dramatic” increase of 32 percent in prosecuting gun crimes since Attorney General John Ashcroft took office in 2001.
Law enforcement officials and gun control groups are divided on a strategy to combat gun violence, which kills more than 10,000 people a year, the Times notes. The Bush administration has focused on felons who possess guns illegally and people who use firearms in committing crimes.
The new study found that illegal possession and use during a crime accounted for 85 percent of 25,000 recent federal firearms cases. Gun control groups say by focusing on street crimes, the department under Ashcroft and predecessor Janet Reno has largely ignored black market dealers, corrupt shop owners, “straw purchase” distributors and others who are central to the problem of illegal guns. Among 20 “rarely enforced” federal gun crimes, the report found that people younger than 18 committed an estimated 93,000 violent crimes, but federal prosecutors brought 24 cases for selling firearms to minors. An estimated 420,000 firearms were reported stolen, but prosecutors filed 524 cases related to stolen firearms. About 450,000 would-be buyers lied about their histories and had their applications rejected, but fewer than 1,600 were prosecuted, the report added.
The Justice Department plans to commit $900 million to the anti-gun initiative over three years and has added more than 600 prosecutors and agents. Still, Jens Ludwig, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University, said that Operation Exile, a pilot program in Virginia often touted as a model “has not been as successful as is widely believed.”