NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

If Gun Laws Not Enforced, Why Pass More?

June 16, 2000

Both the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Department of Justice say that investigating cases involving sales of guns to unauthorized persons -- felons, in other words -- are time-consuming, and the charges are tough to prove in court. Justice Department officials argue that federalizing every gun crime is not the best way to pursue justice.

Advocates of the right to bear arms argue that the failure of officials to prosecute cases of "lying-and-buying" demonstrates the futility of passing even more gun laws.

  • Last year, 146,000 people with a felony or felony indictment on their record tried to buy a gun.
  • But as of Sept. 30, 1999, only 309 people had been charged during the previous 12 months with making false statements when they said they were eligible to buy a gun.
  • Preliminary figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics show the federal government charged only 461 people in 1999 with illegally transferring firearms.
  • In 1992-96, state courts dealt with 85 to 90 percent of the 30,000 to 35,000 people convicted in each of those years for weapons offenses.

The Justice Department thinks that local jurisdictions should handle most gun cases. Officials there stress they are more interested in going after violent criminals.

Gunshop owners point out that there is nothing that a background check can do to stop "straw purchases" -- a term used when one person buys a gun for another person and doesn't say so.

Source: Benjamin Kepple, "Are More Gun Control Laws Needed? Gov't Has Trouble With Current Ones," Investor's Business Daily, June 16, 2000.


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