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Making a Federal Case Out Of Trying Armed Criminals

Monday, June 28, 2010

I have been closely following the heartbreaking story of the March drive-by massacre in southeast Washington, D.C., and especially commend the commentaries of Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King and his rightful anguish over the broken system of local justice in the District of Columbia.

The failure of D.C. criminal law to deal with recidivist, violent predators--what King calls “this perversion of justice and public safety”--is dwarfed by the failure of federal prosecutors to step in and bring to bear federal laws that are beyond the failed D.C. system.

As King warns, “The dirty little secret of D.C. is this: DYRS (Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, the District’s juvenile justice agency) is a progressive idea gone wrong. The mayor knows it. His attorney general knows it. The D.C. Council committee overseeing DYRS knows it. No one knows it better than the juveniles who exploit it.”

He’s right. The unacceptable situation in dealing with violent criminals, especially juvenile criminals in the District, does not have to exist.

When it comes to violent juvenile criminals and tough federal prosecution tools, the official U.S. attorney’s manual is very explicit. You can go online and read it for yourself:

“Federal jurisdiction to initiate a juvenile delinquency proceeding may be established … where the offense charged is a felony that is a crime of violence or one of the drug or gun offenses enumerated in the first paragraph of 18 U.S.C. § 5032 and there is a substantial federal interest in the case. Juvenile delinquency proceedings can be initiated for any federal crime if the state declines to prosecute the matter.”

In the District of Columbia--where every criminal act is federal--that choice is clearly available to federal prosecutors.

But there is more:

“A motion to transfer a juvenile to federal court as an adult may be based on the commission of a felony crime of violence or drug or firearm offense. … ”

As for firearm offenses involving criminals of any age, there is a second tier of criminal law specifically designed to take armed thugs off the street and truly protect the community. It is a law that the U.S. attorney for inexplicable reasons rarely uses.

Let me quote again from the official U.S. attorney’s manual:

“Firearms violations should be aggressively used in prosecuting violent crime. They are generally simple and quick to prove.”

Got that? “Generally simple and quick to prove.”

The manual covers “… the mandatory consecutive and enhanced punishment under this section, which can significantly increase a sentence especially where firearms are used in numerous criminal acts …”

All of these provisions were supported or initiated through NRA’s efforts. Our goal has always been to get armed, violent felons into prison where they belong. Public safety demands no less.

All of these sections fit to a “T” what prosecutors should have done in the cases of the alleged March 30 drive-by shooters who randomly killed four kids and wounded five others. It’s astounding that U.S. attorneys haven’t used the resources of the United States District Court more aggressively to bring armed thugs to justice under very forceful laws against armed, violent criminal predators.

These are surgical-strike laws that do not affect the rights of law-abiding citizens, but they do get violent criminals off the streets and make our communities safer. Witness the concentrated enforcement in Richmond, Va.--Project Exile--in the 1990s that dramatically lowered crime rates and, in fact, caused criminals to disarm themselves rather than face sure and swift justice for illegal firearms possession and use.

With respect to federal firearm laws covering felonious possession and use by a whole class of prohibited persons, NRA’s position has been abundantly clear.

It is a federal felony--a criminal act punishable by 10 years in prison--for any convicted felon to possess any handgun, rifle or shotgun. It is a federal felony for anyone to possess a stolen firearm. It is a federal felony for anyone to give a firearm to a juvenile for the purpose of committing a crime. It is a federal felony for anyone to possess a firearm with the intention of committing a crime. It is a federal felony for anyone to use a firearm in the commission of a crime. It is a federal felony for anyone to cross state lines with the intention to unlawfully obtain a firearm or to commit a crime.

If one were to add up all of the penalties for gun crime offenses by street criminals under existing federal law, total jail time with consecutive sentences could add up to literally hundreds of years in federal prison.

The Washington Post should be questioning federal prosecutors on their refusal to use existing law to prosecute.With application of federal laws against violent criminals and firearms, the streets could be cleaned in a matter of months. This is action NRA has demanded for years, but the Post has ignored or belittled for years.

The fact that prosecutors do not read and apply these simple laws is itself criminal.

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