Criminal control, not gun control

K.E. Campbell
Little mention was made by the president Wednesday of criminal control, such as longer prison sentences or more robust border protection (currently 26.5% of inmates in U.S. Bureau of Prisons' custody are classified as other than United States citizens). The emphasis instead was on making it harder and more stigmatizing for law-abiding citizens to procure and own firearms, an inalienable right enshrined in our Bill of Rights.

Recall William Spengler, the ex-con who less than a month ago ambushed firefighters responding to a house fire, murdering two firemen before killing himself? Something tells me that as the president's advisors brainstormed the "optics" of his public appearance yesterday the idea of having the president flanked by surviving spouses and children of those brave first responders wasn't considered.

Why? Because Spengler had been convicted in 1981 of killing his grandmother with a hammer and he was released from prison less than 18 years later. And existing law at the time of the house-fire ambush prohibited both his purchasing and owning a firearm as well as the straw buyer scheme he ultimately used to acquire two guns prior to that crime. At least one thing is for sure amid these sad circumstances: had Spengler remained in prison, his diabolical Christmas Eve attack would have been prevented.

One of the elements of the president's plan announced yesterday is, to his credit, "maximiz[ing] enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime." This commonsensical measure is one I assume has been occurring as a matter of routine.  Along these lines, I wondered about the number of federal gun-related cases and the enforcement of existing federal gun laws by the Obama Administration's Department of Justice vis-à-vis the preceding administration.

First, according to the FBI, the estimated number of violent crimes dropped from 1,408,337 in 2007 to 1,203,564 in 2011. As for federal gun offenses, I compared U.S. Department of Justice data for the three fiscal years ended September 30, 2011, to the three fiscal years ended September 30, 2008. (Data for the fiscal year ended September 2012 are not yet available.) The figures below were calculated using the Fiscal 2011 U.S. Attorney's Annual Statistical Report.

For the three fiscal years ended September 30, 2011, U.S. Attorneys together with Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives' Project Safe Neighborhoods task force charged 34,954 defendants with a firearm offense (under 18 U.S.C. 922 or 924) compared to 36,540 in the three years ended September 2008, representing a decrease of 4.34% or 1,586 fewer defendants in the most recent three year period. Accordingly, though the conviction rate stayed approximately the same, the number of defendants convicted in federal courts of a firearm offense also declined --by over 2,200-- during the three years ended September 2011 compared to the three years ended September 2008.

The number of defendants sentenced in to prison after being convicted of federal firearms offenses or the use of firearms in the commission of certain other crimes declined by 2,820, or 8.62%, in the three years ended September 2011 compared to the three years ended September 2008. For the fiscal year ended September 2008, 55% of those sentenced in federal court to prison were sentenced to terms of five or more years compared to 54% for fiscal year ended September 2010 (data for 2011 was not shown).

Though interesting to me and subject to different interpretation, the USDOJ gun-crime data are not very meaningful in isolation and I draw no conclusion from it other than this. Being tough on crime, which means being tough on criminals, is not something liberal Democrats are known for, no matter the rhetoric. If they are serious about reducing the incidence of gun use in the commission of crimes, as the president has proclaimed, a big part of that effort will have to entail keeping more of those people with a predilection for using guns in that way out of society or out of the country. I'll believe that when I see it.

Little mention was made by the president Wednesday of criminal control, such as longer prison sentences or more robust border protection (currently 26.5% of inmates in U.S. Bureau of Prisons' custody are classified as other than United States citizens). The emphasis instead was on making it harder and more stigmatizing for law-abiding citizens to procure and own firearms, an inalienable right enshrined in our Bill of Rights.

Recall William Spengler, the ex-con who less than a month ago ambushed firefighters responding to a house fire, murdering two firemen before killing himself? Something tells me that as the president's advisors brainstormed the "optics" of his public appearance yesterday the idea of having the president flanked by surviving spouses and children of those brave first responders wasn't considered.

Why? Because Spengler had been convicted in 1981 of killing his grandmother with a hammer and he was released from prison less than 18 years later. And existing law at the time of the house-fire ambush prohibited both his purchasing and owning a firearm as well as the straw buyer scheme he ultimately used to acquire two guns prior to that crime. At least one thing is for sure amid these sad circumstances: had Spengler remained in prison, his diabolical Christmas Eve attack would have been prevented.

One of the elements of the president's plan announced yesterday is, to his credit, "maximiz[ing] enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime." This commonsensical measure is one I assume has been occurring as a matter of routine.  Along these lines, I wondered about the number of federal gun-related cases and the enforcement of existing federal gun laws by the Obama Administration's Department of Justice vis-à-vis the preceding administration.

First, according to the FBI, the estimated number of violent crimes dropped from 1,408,337 in 2007 to 1,203,564 in 2011. As for federal gun offenses, I compared U.S. Department of Justice data for the three fiscal years ended September 30, 2011, to the three fiscal years ended September 30, 2008. (Data for the fiscal year ended September 2012 are not yet available.) The figures below were calculated using the Fiscal 2011 U.S. Attorney's Annual Statistical Report.

For the three fiscal years ended September 30, 2011, U.S. Attorneys together with Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives' Project Safe Neighborhoods task force charged 34,954 defendants with a firearm offense (under 18 U.S.C. 922 or 924) compared to 36,540 in the three years ended September 2008, representing a decrease of 4.34% or 1,586 fewer defendants in the most recent three year period. Accordingly, though the conviction rate stayed approximately the same, the number of defendants convicted in federal courts of a firearm offense also declined --by over 2,200-- during the three years ended September 2011 compared to the three years ended September 2008.

The number of defendants sentenced in to prison after being convicted of federal firearms offenses or the use of firearms in the commission of certain other crimes declined by 2,820, or 8.62%, in the three years ended September 2011 compared to the three years ended September 2008. For the fiscal year ended September 2008, 55% of those sentenced in federal court to prison were sentenced to terms of five or more years compared to 54% for fiscal year ended September 2010 (data for 2011 was not shown).

Though interesting to me and subject to different interpretation, the USDOJ gun-crime data are not very meaningful in isolation and I draw no conclusion from it other than this. Being tough on crime, which means being tough on criminals, is not something liberal Democrats are known for, no matter the rhetoric. If they are serious about reducing the incidence of gun use in the commission of crimes, as the president has proclaimed, a big part of that effort will have to entail keeping more of those people with a predilection for using guns in that way out of society or out of the country. I'll believe that when I see it.