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Politics & Policy

Jeff Sessions Is Doing More Than Thoughts and Prayers

Attorney General Jeff Sessions (Sait Serkan Gurbuz/Reuters)

One of the common complaints of gun control advocates after a high-profile shooting is that Republican politicians offer “thoughts and prayers” (a decent, human response to which nobody ought to have any objection) and then don’t propose any actual policy solutions. Of course, as in many areas, Republicans tend to focus on smaller, targeted solutions rather than big, sweeping, “comprehensive” national strategies to fundamentally re-order the nation, its folkways, and its liberties, and that always looks paltry to liberals eager to start the world anew.

But if you are looking for a Republican who is doing more than just talk about gun violence, you need look no further than our Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. Sessions’ tenure has been a lightning rod for controversies large and small since he was nominated, and I have my share of disagreements with his approach. But on guns, he’s put the vast law enforcement apparatus under his direction to work.

All the gun laws in the world, after all, don’t mean a thing if they are not enforced – and that means stopping people on the street, raiding their homes, and throwing them in jail. Sessions has not backed down from those tasks. Early on in his tenure, Sessions ordered the Justice Department to prosecute more gun crime cases, with immediate results:

Today [July 28, 2017]  the U.S. Department of Justice announced that, following the memorandum from Attorney General Sessions to prioritize firearm prosecutions, the number of defendants charged with unlawful possession of a firearm increased nearly 23 percent in the second quarter of 2017 (2,637) from the same time period in 2016 (2,149).

One way Sessions has taken on gun crime is via his announcement in March of this year that

U.S. attorneys will more aggressively enforce the law that makes it a crime for gun buyers to lie on their federal background checks…Lying on a federal background check when purchasing a firearm is a felony that can be punished by up to five years in prison, but the crime is rarely prosecuted, according to current and former Justice Department officials. Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to “swiftly and aggressively” pursue cases against people who are prohibited from having firearms and lie on a federal form to pass the background check.

He’s pushed for more prosecutions of small-time violators of gun laws, as the New York Times reported earlier this month – a move favored by both the NRA and the pro-gun-control Brady campaign, though of course the latter favors more gun regulation as well:

Urged by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to punish offenders as harshly and as quickly as possible, federal prosecutors have increasingly pursued low-level gun possession cases, according to law enforcement officials and an examination of court records and federal crime statistics…

In the three months following a directive from Mr. Sessions last year to pursue gun crimes, possession cases — a relatively routine charge — rose nearly a quarter. That was part of a 15 percent increase in all federal gun prosecutions in the first nine months of 2017…

Three law enforcement officials described a newfound interest among prosecutors in taking on smaller gun cases — referred to in law enforcement parlance as one-man, one-gun cases for their narrow impact. Such cases had long been left to state and local prosecutors..

At the level of beefing up enforcement before the fact, Sessions ordered a comprehensive FBI and ATF review in November of the existing National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Sessions has also pushed forward with at least one proposal to change the law administratively by proposing regulations in March to ban bump stocks.

Any proposals for more gun control will require more enforcement, of course; if you like the War on Drugs, you’d love a War on Guns. Sessions, one of Washington’s most enthusiastic drug warriors, is serious about enforcing the laws on the books. For that, he should be applauded, and the gun control narrative that Republicans aren’t doing anything should be reconsidered. And future proposals for more regulation of guns (or less regulation of drugs, for that matter) should always be analyzed with the understanding that they will be enforced rigorously, by people like Jeff Sessions.


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