The U.S. Justice Department has started an ad campaign aimed at felons. Possess a gun illegally, it warns, and you will find yourself in a desolate prison, far away from friends and family, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. President George W. Bush’s administration is allocating more than $1 billion over four years into Project Safe Neighborhoods, an effort to halt violent crimes largely by focusing on the illegal possession of guns by felons. Touted as Bush’s top criminal justice initiative, it has added hundreds of federal prosecutors nationwide, enabling the Justice Department to charge thousands more defendants who otherwise may have faced little or no time in state prisons. The U.S. Attorney’s office in St. Louis has nearly tripled its gun prosecutions in the past three years. “They’re getting real time, what George Bush calls hard time, in federal court,” said U.S. Attorney Jim Martin.
Democrats and gun safety groups contend that Bush’s administration has failed to enforce other gun laws, and has failed to lead Republicans to renew the ban on assault weapons – set to expire next week. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the leading Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said, “Over the past few months, four law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty – and an equal number wounded – by violent criminals toting dangerous assault rifles. While it is true that programs such as PSN may eventually prosecute those individuals, a truly successful program would prevent such tragedies from occurring.” St. Louis defense attorney Scott Rosenblum said the administration is expanding prosecution of crimes that usually have been handled by state prosecutors, and the result is long sentences for defendants who very often are black. “We don’t need to federalize state crimes so we can prosecute young, predominantly African-American men for obscene periods of time,” he said. St. Louis Police Chief Joe Mokwa believes the increased federal prosecution of felon-in-possession cases has played a role in the city’s declining murder rate.