Politics & Policy

The Corner

Why People Who Fail Gun Background Checks Usually Aren’t Prosecuted

Yesterday on Fox News, Ted Cruz went after the Obama administration because “in 2010, 48,000 felons & fugitives lied and illegally tried to purchase guns, [the Obama administration] prosecuted only 44 of them.” He touted a 2013 bill he co-sponsored that, among many other gun-related provisions, would have created a task force and allocated $50 million over five years to prosecute more people who try to buy guns and are rejected during the background check.

This shift in the use of prosecutorial discretion deserves close scrutiny.

Also, as The Trace reported last year, some states that handle background checks themselves (instead of relying on the FBI) have been making more of an effort to arrest people and have seen results. It highlights Pennsylvania, where the police “decided to investigate every failed background check.” Investigations skyrocketed, and arrests doubled — but the number of investigations was more than quadruple the number of arrests in 2014, the year after the change, with the number of arrests about double the number of convictions. Then again, those are good proportions relative to the one Cruz highlighted.

So, yes, let’s make a bigger effort to find out what’s going on in these cases and see if more should be prosecuted. But don’t assume that all or even most of them should be, given the rights of the accused and our desire to focus punishment on the most serious offenders.

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