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DOJ Budget Request Reveals Some Questionable Priorities but Isn't the Increase Some Feared

Friday, March 7, 2014

On Tuesday, March 4, the Obama administration released its budget proposal for fiscal year 2015, and one portion of the proposal immediately raised the ire of many gun owners. The Department of Justice released a fact sheet detailing the department's request for "gun safety" spending to the tune of an eye-popping $1.1 billion, some of which is touted as supporting Obama's "Now is the Time" gun control initiative.

Some have misinterpreted the fact sheet to mean a proposed $1.1 billion dollar increase in this type of spending, or an enormous increase from $382.1 million in funds requested in a FY 2014 DOJ "gun safety" fact sheet. These two numbers from the different fact sheets should not be conflated, however, as the $1.1 billion requested for FY 2015 is for the total funding for programs that the DOJ considers part of its "gun safety" efforts, while the $382.1 million in funding listed in the FY 2014 fact sheet is for proposed increases for that year. And while the $1.1 billion in proposed funding for FY 2015 certainly contains some regrettable spending, the vast majority of that total is to maintain current federal programs that enforce current federal gun laws, some of which need not alarm law-abiding gun owners.

Many gun owners reading the DOJ FY 2015 fact sheet will take particular offense to the document's trumpeting of a proposed $182.4 million in spending to further the president's "Now is the Time" initiative. And gun owners are right to be concerned, as the "Now is the Time" plan includes several anti-gun efforts, including a ban on popular semi-automatic firearms and their magazines and the elimination of private firearm transfers. However, the $182.4 million in proposed "Now is the Time" spending largely focuses on areas that are less of a threat to gun rights.

For instance, here is a description of some of the "Now is the Time" spending: "[Office of Justice Programs], with the support of the FBI, will be providing a specialized training course for active shooter situations for law enforcement officers, first responders, and school officials. The Department is requesting a total of $15.0 million to support this training and other officer safety initiatives." Another $75 million of the proposed "Now is the Time" spending is for "grant funding to the Comprehensive School Safety Program, which was funded for the first time in FY 2014." Such spending correctly focuses on preventing future tragedies, without targeting law-abiding gun owners.

Funding requested under the "Now is the Time" umbrella also consists of $55 million in grants to states and $13.4 million to the FBI in order to provide more records to the NICS system and maintain "improvements made to NICS in FY 2014."

There are, however, at least two significant areas of concern for gun owners within the funding that falls under the "Now is the Time" initiative, particularly in light of the nation's already ballooning federal deficit. First, is a proposed $22 million increase in BATFE funding to "sustain critical investments made in FY 2014 in firearms enforcement, investigations and inspection activities as well as tools such as the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN) in support of the 'Now is the Time' initiative."

In recent years BATFE has shown a penchant to misuse the funding it has already been given. The Fast & Furious scandal brought to light the flawed BATFE investigative techniques that played a part in the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. More recently, the BATFE has garnered criticism for botched sting operations conducted in Milwaukee, Wis., and Portland, Ore., that in some cases exploited the mentally disabled. Additionally, any increase in funds for "investigation and inspection activities" could, depending on how they were used, be used to further burden law-abiding gun owners and gun dealers.

Second, the "Now is the Time" portion of the budget request includes $2 million "to support the Administration's challenge to the private sector to develop innovative and cost-effective gun safety technology." In other words, the administration intends to use $2 million in taxpayer dollars to promote "smart gun" technology that the public has already rejected. A 2013 NSSF poll found that of those surveyed, 74 percent thought that a "smart gun" would be "not very reliable" or "not reliable at all" for protection. Another question found that 81 percent of those surveyed were "not very likely [to]" or "would not buy" a "smart gun." Federal promotion of this technology is reason for concern, as it has long been an objective of gun control advocates to mandate that only firearms containing such technology be sold.

All told, the proposed $1.1 billion in "gun safety" spending has some hits, like increased funding for school safety measures, and some definite misses, such as the $2 million "smart gun" boondoggle. But much of it falls somewhere in between, providing funding to enforce the nation's current gun control laws.  It is important to remember that the recently released documents only represent a proposed budget from the executive branch, with Congress holding the ultimate authority over the purse strings of government. Further, as always, NRA-ILA will be working with members of Congress to protect the interests of gun owners.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.