The Morning Jolt

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A Strange Criticism of Illegal Gun-Possession Prosecution

Rifles are displayed for sale at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Pennsylvania (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The New York Times starts to worry that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration are too tough on gun crimes; how to work around a filibuster and other lessons from the NRA convention; school officials in Broward County suddenly discover something, nearly three months after the shooting; and why West Virginia Republican primary voters might make it hard to care about the future of the GOP.

Wait, Why Is Anyone Complaining about Prosecutions for Illegal Gun Possessions?

The New York Times reports about concerns that the Trump administration is too tough on criminals who purchase or possess guns illegally.

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. Mr. Amos’s conviction was part of the Justice Department’s broad crackdown on gun violence during the first 15 months of the Trump administration.

Mr. Sessions’s approach has touched off a debate about whether he is making the country safer from violent crime, as he and President Trump have repeatedly vowed to do, or devoting resources to low-level prosecutions that could instead be put toward pursuing bigger targets like gun suppliers.

“It’s a good idea to enforce the existing gun laws,” said Avery Gardiner, co-president of The Brady Campaign, a nonprofit coalition that works to combat gun violence. “That’s something prosecutors should do. But going only after the people who are purchasing the guns illegally is only part of the story.”

Rarely will you see it put so explicitly! Of course, this is an argument from self-interest. If the problem of gun violence can be addressed sufficiently by enforcing existing laws . . . then there isn’t much need for a group like the Brady Campaign to push for additional laws, now is there?

What’s indisputable is that for a long time, through administrations of both parties, federal prosecutors largely looked the other way on illegal attempts to purchase a firearm. In 2013, the Washington Post concluded, “Neither the Bush administration nor Obama administration ever prosecuted even one-quarter of one percent of the people who failed to pass a criminal background check.” Attempts to prosecute straw buyers were similarly rare; it simply was deemed a low priority.

The Times article seems to suggest that prosecuting individuals for illegal possession of a firearm is a waste of time, money, and law-enforcement resources. But we’ve seen several mass shooters in recent years who shouldn’t have been able to purchase a gun because of past criminal behavior (the Charleston church shooter, the Texas church shooter, the Waffle House shooter) or past run-ins with police that did not result in charges (the Parkland shooter). Every dangerous criminal is “low priority” at the beginning of his career.

How to Work Around a Senate Filibuster, and Other Lessons from the NRA Convention

If you didn’t see it yesterday, I had a chance to speak to Senator Ted Cruz at the NRA Annual Meeting in Dallas, and he shared some thoughts on how Senate Republicans can work around Democrat filibusters:

For the next six months, let’s focus on procedural vehicles that can’t be filibustered.

There are principally four:

You’ve got, number one, Congressional Review Act resolutions, which we’ve used to repeal a whole bunch of Obama-era regulations. We should use that more.

Number two, rescissions — that allows you to pull back spending. The White House is talking about putting forward some rescissions. I think we ought to look at that seriously.

Number three, the biggest one, is using budget reconciliation. That’s the vehicle for many of our biggest victories last year, including the tax cut. We ought to take up another reconciliation in 2018, and score more victories for the American people.

Number four is NAFTA. I’ve proposed to the president using NAFTA as a vehicle for regulatory reform, lifting the burdens that are killing jobs. Under trade-promotion authority, that goes to Congress on an expedited up-or-down vote. Fifty votes and it can’t be filibustered.

All of those are vehicles that we can use to get big wins now, without having to change the filibuster rules, because we don’t have the votes to do that.

Also at the NRA Convention, Trump was in ebullient form. The relentless criticism of the national media from every speaker would seem overdone, if the national media hadn’t earned so much of that in the aftermath of Parkland. (See a related story below.)

Want to know the next big state-level fight on gun rights? “Constitutional carry” in Oklahoma, allowing people 21 and older and military personnel who are at least 18 to legally carry a handgun, either openly or concealed, without a state-issued license or permit. The bill passed both houses and is on Governor Mary Fallin’s desk right now. She’s a Republican and is generally pro–Second Amendment, but vetoed two other bills that would have loosened gun restrictions in 2014 and 2015. Fallin has roughly another ten days to sign or veto the law.

Broward County School Officials: Oh, Wait, We Forgot to Tell You . . .

The Parkland shooting was nearly three months ago. The school district is still discovering new details about their own discipline records of the shooter.

Broward school district officials admitted Sunday that the confessed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School gunman was assigned to a controversial disciplinary program, after the superintendent repeatedly claimed Nikolas Cruz had “no connection” to the alternative punishment designed to limit on-campus arrests.

Two sources with knowledge of Cruz’s discipline records told WLRN he was referred to the so-called PROMISE Program for a three-day stint after committing vandalism at Westglades Middle School in 2013.

When asked for a response, a spokeswoman for Superintendent Robert Runcie stated on Friday that district administrators were aggressively analyzing Cruz’s records. Then Tracy Clark said on Sunday afternoon the district had “confirmed” Cruz’s referral to PROMISE after he vandalized a bathroom at the middle school on Nov. 25, 2013.

However, it’s unclear if Cruz ever attended the program . . .

“Let me reiterate this point,” Runcie started off during an interview in his office last month. “Nikolas Cruz, the shooter that was involved in this horrific accident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, had no connection to the PROMISE program.”

How do you not figure that out for this long? Unless there is some sort of effort to hide the truth from the public . . .

Another Key GOP Senate Primary, Another Abysmal, Unelectable Candidate

Roy Moore was a bad candidate. There is a strong argument to be made that he’s a bad person. He’s a former Alabama judge whose respect for the rule of law is entirely contingent on whether or not he agrees with the ruling; he was removed from the state Supreme Court because he refused to comply with a federal U.S. District Judge’s ruling requiring the removal of a statue of the Ten Commandments. An awful lot of young women came forward with stories of Moore pursuing relationships with them at exceptionally young ages. Whether or not you believe his accusers, in Moore’s own book, he describes how his wife caught his eye when he was 30 and she was 15 or 16. He collects an annual salary of roughly $180,000 per year for part-time work from his own nonprofit. He argued that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in the U.S. Congress.

Whatever you think of his character and approach to government, Moore was bad enough to lose a special election in a deeply Republican state.

In West Virginia’s GOP Senate primary, Don Blankenship is a bad candidate. There is a strong argument he’s a bad person. In 2015, he was convicted of “conspiring to willfully violate mine safety and health standards” in the aftermath of the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster that killed 29 miners. He spent a year in jail because of this conviction. (Blankenship ran an ad featuring a miner boasting, “his first priority was safety.” A separate ad claimed the ad disaster was “Obama’s deadliest cover-up.”) He keeps referring to Mitch McConnell’s Chinese-American father-in-law as a “Chinaperson.” He bizarrely seems to think he can convince voters that Mitch McConnell is either a cocaine addict or a drug smuggler by repeatedly calling the Senate majority leader “Cocaine Mitch.”

(Separately from being a bad person, but in the category of being a bad candidate, his onscreen persona is . . . challenging. I’ve seen more natural and comfortable statements in hostage tapes.)

Whatever you think of his character and approach to government, Blankenship is probably bad enough to lose a winnable race against Democrat Joe Manchin, in a state that President Trump won 68.5 percent to 26.4 percent. (The other two major GOP Senate candidates, state attorney general Patrick Morrisey and congressman Evan Jenkins, do not represent anywhere near the risk that Blankenship does.)

If Republican primary voters in West Virginia select the worst possible candidate, right after Republican primary voters in Alabama chose the worst possible candidate . . . it starts to become really difficult to get emotionally invested in the fate of the Republican party. What’s the point of pulling for this party if its voters keep nominating the worst possible choice over and over again?

This isn’t the first time Republicans have nominated deeply flawed candidates for key Senate races: Todd Akin in Missouri, Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, Sharron Angle in Nevada. If West Virginia Republicans nominate Blankenship, it will be depressingly clear is that the party’s electorate as a whole will not learn from experience.

ADDENDA: Some parts of the NRA Annual Meeting in Dallas were like a zoo . . . that never moved.

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