By: Robert Davis
The Department of Justice (DOJ) requested an increase in its budget for Fiscal Year 2020 as the agency continues increasing prosecutions for federal gun crimes, which are currently riding a four-year upswing.
Attorney General William Barr told the House Appropriations Committee on April 9 that the Department is requesting $137.9 million for violent crime and transnational organized crime prosecutions, $100 million for Project Safe Neighborhoods grants to state and local law enforcement, and $5.8 million to enhance violent crime and firearms prosecutions.
“Every day of the week, we learn more which convinces us that our reservations concerning Barr were well-founded,” Michael Hammond, legislative counsel for Gun Owners of America, told Gunpowder Magazine.
Many gun rights advocacy groups opposed Barr’s nomination for Attorney General because of his record on semi-auto bans, magazine bans, gun confiscation, and his role in Ruby Ridge, a standoff situation that took place in 1992 between the FBI and an Idaho family and which resulted in multiple deaths. Barr defended the FBI snipers who killed the American citizens in Ruby Ridge. Afterward, the FBI compiled a 542-page report detailing federal misconduct in the handling of the case, but because of Barr’s efforts, the killers never stood trial.
The Wrong Barr
Barr supported the 1991 Federal Assault Weapons Ban while he was Deputy U.S. Attorney General. During his confirmation hearings in January 2019, Barr doubled-down on his support for gun control measures, telling Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) that the Second Amendment is a “personal” right, not a natural one.
“It's based on the Lockean notion of the right of self-preservation,” Barr told the committee. “It's tied to that. I was glad to see Heller come out and vindicate that initial view that I had…And so there is no question under Heller that the right to have weapons, firearms, is protected under the Second Amendment and is a personal right. At the same time there is room for reasonable regulation.”
Those “reasonable regulations” Barr seems to be referring to include taking guns away from regular citizens while keeping federal agents armed and immunized from our legal system.
Barr has said of red flag gun confiscation laws, “...We need to push along the ERPOs (Extreme Risk Protection Orders), so we have these red flag laws to supplement the use of the background check to find out if someone has some mental disturbance. This is the single most important thing I think we can do in the gun control area to stop these massacres from happening in the first place.”
Gun Crime in the U.S.
Barr’s budgetary request comes as FBI crime statistics show a 4.3 percent decline in violent crime, a 6.7 percent decline in murders, and a 12 percent decline in robbery and burglary compared to the first six months of 2017.
“Law-abiding gun owners should be weary of Barr’s request,” Hammond said. “I suspect that attempts to prosecute people who fail Brady Background Checks will result in more harassment of veterans, traffic ticket scofflaws, and others who would not be considered ‘dangerous’ by most of society.”
Brady Checks were instituted under The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1994), named after James Brady who was hurt during the assassination attempt against Ronal Regan in 1981. The act requires an individual to go through a background check before purchasing a weapon.
“The ‘felons’ who fail Brady Checks include: (1) people who plead guilty to minor crimes and got no prison time and erroneously assumed that their lack of incarceration meant that they kept their guns rights, (2) people in places like Massachusetts who are guilty of state misdemeanors which are classified similar to felonies by federal law,” Hammond said.
But, Hammond says, those who fail Brady Checks are rarely prosecuted. Those who do, however, face up to 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
Hammond helped write the McClure-Volkmer Amendment to the Firearm Owners Protection Act. The amendments made sure harmless felons cannot be successfully prosecuted because they did not know they were prohibited from purchasing firearms.
Even though they are rarely prosecuted, an article from USA Today details how the FBI issued 4,000 gun confiscation requests to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) last year, a record for the FBI.
In February 2017, President Trump signed Executive Order 13776 directing Jeff Sessions, U.S. Attorney General at the time, to find a way to reduce crime. This assignment led to the creation of The Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety.
DOJ set new prosecutorial records under Sessions, increasing prosecutions of federal gun crimes by 17 percent to more than 15,000 in 2018, according to a press release. Firearms prosecution was a first priority to Sessions during his tenure.
In 2017, ATF confiscated nearly 240,000 firearms, according statistics compiled by the Bureau.
Robert Davis is a general assignment reporter for Gunpowder Magazine. You can contact him at RobertDavis0414@gmail.com.