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Federal Firearms Law Enforcement Efforts

Thursday, December 11, 2003

"Referrals for the prosecution of gun crimes by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) have almost tripled in recent years," according to a new report from the independent, non-partisan Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. This continues an upward trend that began in 1997 after federal enforcement actions hit their recent all-time low under the Clinton-Gore-Reno Administration.

Based on information that TRAC obtained from the Executive Office of United States Attorney under the Freedom of Information Act, the soaring enforcement effort recorded has continued during the first five months of FY 2003. An estimated 16,606 referrals for prosecution for violation of federal firearms laws will occur in 2003. This contrasts with 5,496 such referrals in 1997.

In addition to the hiring of more enforcement personnel, "[a]nother factor behind the startling growth in the BATF enforcement efforts," TRAC says, "may have been the active support of Attorney General John Ashcroft since the Bush Administration first came into office and since--on Jan. 24, 2003--the BATF was transferred from its long-term location in the Treasury Department to the Justice Department."

A week after the transfer, at the Project Safe Neighborhoods National Conference in Philadelphia, Attorney General Ashcroft announced: "Our message to armed criminals is unambiguous: no more slipping through the cracks. President Bush put it best here in Philadelphia in May of 2001: `If you use a gun illegally, you will do hard time.`"

And, according to TRAC, the lead charge in two out of three BATFE`s recent prosecution referrals for weapons violations was a section of federal law making it a crime for a felon to possess a gun. BATFE federal weapons referrals numbered 9,339 in FY 2002 and resulted in 4,114 convictions. By contrast, in 1998, 3,609 similar referrals were brought, resulting in 1,947 convictions.

TRAC`s report also notes that: "Only a small fraction of the BATFE cases appeared to have been aimed at dealers who failed to live up to various restrictions imposed by law on the nation`s gun dealers." This reflects what BATFE told prosecutors and law enforcement officials at the recent Project Safe Neighborhoods conference--that the vast majority of gun dealers conduct their businesses lawfully, often bending over backward to help investigators nab gun traffickers. In a report on its trafficking investigations, BATFE said that dealers are involved in the "smallest proportion" of trafficking investigations, ranking behind investigations of straw purchase rings, unlicensed traffickers, guns stolen from dealers and guns stolen from residences.

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