The Washington Post’s fact checker gives U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) three “Pinocchios” for his declaration that “the Obama administration has not made it a priority to prosecute felons and fugitives who try to illegally buy guns.” Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) has documented how prosecutions of weapons violations have shifted up and down, sometimes in dramatic fashion, since 1986. The report showed that prosecutions had fallen from a high of 11,015 in 2004 to 7,774 in 2012, for a decline of 29 percent. The Post says Cruz is comparing the last year of Obama's first term with the high point of Bush's presidency, which was reached in his first term. It turns out that weapons prosecutions started to tumble in Bush's second term. Comparing 2012 to 2008, Bush's last year, the decline is just 8 percent.
If you compare an average of Bush's eight years with an average of Obama's four years, that shows a decline of 15 percent. In other words, Cruz is stacking the deck, the Post says. The TRAC report raises serious questions about whether the data are even relevant as a measure of presidential performance. That's because many weapons crimes can be prosecuted either under state/local laws or under federal laws. Far more weapons cases are handled by state and local prosecutors, and “sometimes the decision of which jurisdiction — state or federal — will prosecute a gun offense depends upon the specifics of the laws, including which one calls for a longer prison sentence,” the report says. In other words, the number of federal cases depends a lot on the interaction with state and local prosecutions, which may have little to do with an administration's priorities.