According to the New York Times, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is trying a new tack by prosecuting low-level gun crimes. Sound familiar? It should. Gun owners have been saying for years that if the laws currently on the books were enforced, we’d see fewer overall crime and there would be no need for more gun control laws.
Mr. Sessions’s approach has touched off a debate about whether he is making the country safer from violent crime, as he and President Trump have repeatedly vowed to do, or devoting resources to low-level prosecutions that could instead be put toward pursuing bigger targets like gun suppliers.
Think of it as another version of Rudy Giuliani’s “broken windows” approach that curbed New York’s crime problem and made the city more livable in the 1990s.
Cops are apparently a fan of the strategy.
Local police, who have for years sought more muscle from federal law enforcement, welcomed Mr. Sessions’s more aggressive approach.
“We have been trying to send a message,” said J. Thomas Manger, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which represents police departments across the country. “The bad guys have a real fear of federal prosecutions versus state prosecutions.”
That’s because local prosecutions can be, let’s say, spotty. Cities like Chicago are notorious for their revolving door criminal justice system, issuing wrist-slaps to habitual felons who, strangely enough, go on to commit more crimes as soon as their sprung.
But the feds, when pointed in the right direction, put their targets away for longer stretches.
Penalties for federal gun convictions are steep. On average, firearms defendants spend six years in federal prison. If they are convicted under the two statutes requiring mandatory minimum sentences, that average jumps to 11 years.
In the three months following a directive from Mr. Sessions last year to pursue gun crimes, possession cases — a relatively routine charge — rose nearly a quarter. That was part of a 15 percent increase in all federal gun prosecutions in the first nine months of 2017.
Of course, “experts,” many of whom favor more more gun control laws cast doubt on the effectiveness of the effort.
“Enforcement isn’t always the solution to those different types of crimes,” said Inimai Chettier, director of the justice program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. “The result might be to increase the federal prison population without a correlating reduction in crime.”
Then again, those felons in federal prison won’t be on the streets committing more crimes, many involving firearms.
People convicted of firearms-related crimes make up more than 17 percent of the federal prison population, the second-biggest group after drug offenses, Justice Department data showed. Ninety-six percent of defendants convicted of a federal firearms offense in 2017 were sentenced to prison.