Re: Guns [was Re: property Rights]

Steve Tucker (
Thu, 27 May 1999 22:00:08 -0500

I came across this today....

Why does the fed gov't push for new laws when it doesn't enforce the ones it already has?

By SALLY BUZBEE / Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Gun murders in Richmond, Va., fell by 41 percent after prosecutors there started an effort to put any felon caught carrying a gun in prison for five years.

So why doesn' t the Clinton administration follow that model nationwide, the National Rifle Association and other gun control opponents want to know. Federal prosecutors could crack down on gun crime by enforcing the laws already on the books, rather than pushing for new ones, they say.

As Congress debates a slate of gun control proposals that gained support from lawmakers after the Littleton, Colo., high school shootings, the question of whether the federal government does enough to enforce those existing laws has re-emerged as a key dispute. Republicans were expected to grill Clinton administration officials on the issue at a hearing today.

" You can talk about the culture of violence for the next 10 years. Unless you
start prosecution, you' re never going to cut the culture of violence, " said Glen Caroline, director of the NRA' s grassroots division. Since President Clinton took office, federal prosecutions of gun-related crimes have dropped more than 40 percent, the NRA says. The nation has a zero-tolerance policy against young people bringing guns to school, for example, yet the federal government prosecuted just eight children for that in the last two years, says James Baker, the group' s chief lobbyist.

But the Clinton administration says gun groups use the wrong statistics, looking only at the drop in prosecutions since 1992, when violent crime overall and thus prosecutions began to drop after historic highs.

Gun groups also ignore the recent federal efforts to work with local police to prevent illegal gun sales, and to go after those who commit crimes with guns and the dealers who illegally supply them, the administration says.

" It is disingenuous for them to criticize when they are looking at the wrong
numbers," said Justice Department spokesman Brian Steel, who says federal, state and local prosecutions combined are on the increase.

In addition, federal laws often are meant more to prevent gun violence -- by keeping felons from buying guns, for example -- than as tools for prosecutors. The Brady Law' s instant background checks have prevented 250, 000 felons from buying guns, Steel says.

And some crimes, such as those by teen-agers and children, are simply better handled by local authorities, said Attorney General Janet Reno, herself a former state attorney from Dade County, Fla. Nevertheless, officials do plan to review " just what needs to be done with state and local authorities to ensure the appropriate prosecution of these cases, " she said last week.

Even gun-control advocates, however, say more could be done. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms should be more aggressive in putting out of business any licensed gun dealer who breaks federal rules, says Douglas Weil, research director for the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence.

The program begun in Richmond, called Project Exile and praised by the NRA in newspaper ads and before Congress, has dominated much of the debate. Rochester, N.Y., also has signed on.

Clinton praised the program in a March radio address with Richmond' s police chief at his side, but the NRA complains that the Clinton administration isn' t providing money to duplicate the effort nationwide.

" We want to give cities the flexibility to do whatever works in their community, "
Steel said. " Richmond had a particular problem with convicted felons getting guns. Boston had a problem with gangs. They used different strategies, and they both had success."

Indeed, the Boston program that started in 1995, tracing where young criminals got their guns, became a precursor of the ATF effort to trace guns used in juvenile crime -- a program Clinton is expanding.

A bill the Senate passed last week includes a measure that would revoke gun ownership rights for anyone convicted as a juvenile of a firearms crime, would institute new background checks at gun shows and pawn shops and would require that safety devices be sold with all new handguns. The House is expected to take up similar proposals in mid-June.

Yet even as lawmakers consider such new restrictions, some insist the focus should be on enforcement, perhaps by giving more money to police and to federal prosecutors or to gun-safety education programs.

" To really maximize our impact ... we' ve got to prosecute the laws we' ve got, "
said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.