Two years ago, in “Project Safe Neighborhoods,” federal officials pledged to lock up violent career criminals who use guns. The Raleigh News & Observer reports that prosecutions in 44 North Carolina counties in the program have tripled over the period, says Frank Whitney, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Whitney noted that armed career criminals with three prior felonies get a 15-year mandatory prison term in federal courts.
The News & Observer says the program is patterned after ones in Richmond, Va., and Boston in which federal, state and local law enforcement team up by aggressively attacking and punishing drug traffickers, street gangs, and robbery rings. Strategies include undercover stings, confidential informants, and weapons charges whenever a suspect is arrested with a gun.
The three-year, $901 million initiative has done little to stop gun trafficking, maintains a gun-safety group, because many firearms laws are poorly enforced. “Project Safe Neighborhoods’ intentions are in the right place, but their actions haven’t matched the rhetoric,” said Matt Bennett of Americans for Gun Safety Foundation, a Washington-based non-profit.
The group studied federal-prosecution data and found that between 2000 and 2002, 20 of 22 major federal gun laws were almost never prosecuted. The study said the federal project mostly ignores illegal gun trafficking, firearms theft, corrupt gun dealers, falsified applications, obliterated firearm serial numbers, and sales of guns to minors. Of the 1,124 cases federally prosecuted in North Carolina for fiscal years 2000 and 2002, 1,033 involved possession while committing a felony and possession of a firearm by a felon. The gun safety group said, “These are low-hanging fruit and fairly easy cases to prove.” Enforcing the other laws can get complicated and requires more resources.
The crackdown comes after a federal report showed that North Carolina was one of the top five suppliers of illegal handguns recovered from crime scenes in six cities along the Eastern Seaboard in 2000. In June, federal authorities in North Carolina signed on to “Operation Iron Pipeline,” an anti-gun initiative named for the nickname for Interstate 95, a longtime gun-and drug-smuggling route.