Gun Law Prosecutions Dropping Under Clinton

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

( - A new study shows that there has been a steady decline during the Clinton administration of federal prosecutions of firearms-related criminal cases.

The study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University said that the number of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) cases referred to federal prosecutors has decreased 44 percent since 1992. According to records, most ATF referrals involve alleged weapons violations. The study may indicate, as opponents of new gun control laws have pointed out, that federal authorities are not doing enough to enforce existing gun laws.

"We do not lack for laws. We lack for enforcement of laws," said National Rifle Association (NRA) President Charlton Heston when informed of the TRAC study.

The study also revealed some other trends in gun law enforcement that have occurred under President Clinton's watch. The ATF is now at its lowest personnel level of the decade, having lost eight percent of its total force since 1992 and 14 percent of its criminal investigators, figures show. Records also reveal that felons convicted in ATF cases are receiving shorter sentences than they were in 1994. The average federal sentence in such cases five years ago was eight years, compared with only six years today.

Some ATF officials contend that one reason for the decrease in prosecutions is that they are targeting bigger catches, i.e., illegal-gun kingpins rather than low-level street felons on weapons violations.

"We seek to prosecute the few sharks at the top rather than the numerous guppies of the criminal enterprise," one ATF official told the Los Angeles Times.

However, a scholar associated with the TRAC study told the same newspaper that the drop in average prison sentence length would indicate otherwise.

"So are [ATF officials] really going after more serious cases?" asked Syracuse professor Susan Long, co-director of TRAC. "The numbers were surprising."