Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions’s central prescription for reducing gun violence is simple: Prosecute more firearms cases in federal courts, reports The Trace. The Alabama Republican vowed to senators to make enforcement of federal gun crimes “a top priority” and said that he expects federal gun prosecutions to increase. “Properly enforced, federal gun laws can reduce crime in our cities and communities,” he wrote. He pledged to prioritize “reduction of illegal interstate trafficking of firearms.” Sessions has joined other Republicans, conservative commentators, and gun rights groups in decrying a decline in federal gun prosecutions under former President Obama. They argue that the stiffer penalties carried by federal laws pack a deterrent effect that make would-be shooters think twice before reaching for a pistol.
Academic research casts doubt on that, finding no clear link between increasing federal prosecutions and decreasing homicide rates. “I don’t think there is good evidence on the effectiveness of the kinds of things that Senator Sessions is recommending,” said Daniel Nagin, a criminologist at Carnegie Mellon University. Even more dubious to experts is Sessions’s vow to crack down on interstate trafficking. There is no federal law against gun trafficking, and as a senator, Sessions opposed legislation to create one. Sessions has vociferously opposed an effort by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to crack down on shady gun sales by clarifying when a person is “engaged in the business of selling guns” and therefore must conduct background checks on buyers. Sessions indicated in his confirmation hearing that he will not support additional funds for ATF. A 2014 Government Accountability Office report found that the agency had about 2,600 agents in fiscal 2015, just 11 percent more than 2001, despite annual guns sales (as measured by background checks) more than doubling during the same period.