More than 100,000 convicted felons or other “prohibited persons” tried to buy guns each year during President Barack Obama’s administration by lying on their applications, but the Justice Department considered prosecuting only about 30 to 40 people each year, according to a Daily Caller News Foundation investigation.
The Obama administration may have publicly aligned itself with anti-gun activists, but it consistently turned a blind eye to prosecuting known criminals who tried to buy guns.
A June 2016 Justice Department Inspector General’s report revealed that between 2008 and 2015 the U.S. Attorneys office considered prosecuting “less [sic] than 32 people per year” for lying on form 4473, the federal application to buy guns.
Surprisingly, the Obama administration’s harshest critics were directed at gun manufacturers themselves.
“People could do what is called, ‘lie and buy,’” explained Lawrence Keane, a senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a nonprofit organization that represents gun manufacturers.
“But very infrequently is anyone ever prosecuted. What’s the point of making it a crime if you don’t enforce it?” he asked rhetorically in an interview with TheDCNF.
“It’s a long-standing problem. And it was certainly true over the last eight years where the Department of Justice did not prosecute people,” he complained.
Daniel D. Roberts, who in 2009 was named Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, confirmed that more than 100,000 criminals each year attempt to buy guns even though they have rap sheets.
“When I was there, it was running around 100,000 a year of firearm purchasers that tried to go through to buy guns. I think it’s more than 100,000 now,” he told TheDCNF in an interview. “That should trigger a referral to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for investigation for lying on the forms.”
Two of every 10 gun denials referred to the ATF was sent to field offices for prosecution, a Justice Department report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2013 and 2014 found. Eight of ten never faced prosecution, according to the report.
Roberts ran the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) checks, that is the main tool the bureau uses to conduct background checks of potential buyers of guns. He left the bureau only last year.
Dave Workman, a senior editor of the Gunmag.com, a publication owned by the pro-gun rights Second Amendment Foundation, claims the Obama administration simply didn’t want to spend the money to prosecute people who lied on their form 4473.
The Inspector General’s report bears out Workman’s observation, stating that prosecuting those who lied on their applications was “not the best use of Department resources.”
Prosecutors “hold the view that prosecuting subjects for false statements on a firearm application absent other aggravating circumstances may not be the best use of Department resources,” The Executive Office of U.S. Attorney said.
Keane said, however, that the decision eliminated a deterrent effect. “It has a deterrent effect to others that there are consequences engaging in that conduct,” he told TheDCNF.
The Justice Department’s passivity seemed to go against the Obama administration’s public image of being tough on those who lied to buy guns, Workman added.
“It was unusual for an administration that was so ideological on gun control to not go after these guys when they essentially had been caught red-handed,” he said. “That I find a little bit disturbing.”
Even the pro-gun control advocacy group “Everytown For Gun Safety” lamented the lack of Obama prosecutions.
“It is a federal crime for felons and other prohibited gun purchasers to attempt to buy a gun. The [U.S.] Department of Justice, however, has not been prosecuting people who fail background checks at licensed gun dealers,” the group stated on its website.
Similarly, Avery Gardiner, the co-president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told TheDCNF those who lie on their background check applications should be prosecuted.
“They’re subverting decades-old federal law that keeps guns out of the hands of dangerous people,” he said in an email, adding:
At Brady, we’d like to see the Department of Justice encourage its prosecutors to pursue these criminal acts.
Gun control activists may also be surprised that the denial rate for gun applications plummeted during the Obama administration, from 17.2 denials per thousand in 1999 to only 5.5 denials per thousand in 2014, according to a June 2016 Justice Department report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Under federal law there are ten categories of “prohibited persons” who are specifically barred from ever purchasing a gun, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Prohibited persons include convicted felons, drug addicts, those committed to a mental institution, people dishonorably discharged, someone who has a restraining order or an individual who has stalked people or have been convicted of domestic violence against women.
The issue isn’t an academic one. Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, opened fire on parishioners at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Nov. 5, and killed 26 people and wounded 20 others. Kelley met at least three specific conditions that should have denied him a gun.
Kelley in 2012 fled the Peak Behavioral Health Services hospital in New Mexico where he was sent for a serious mental illness condition after being court-martialed by the Air Force on charges of assaulting his wife and child. Kelley also stalked two teenage girls. Finally, he pled guilty to the charges, spent a year in military prison, and was given a bad conduct discharge.
Yet, he presumably withheld all of this information on his gun application. He was able to buy four guns between 2013 to 2017 in Colorado Springs, Colo., and San Antonio, Texas.
A scathing September 2016 Justice Department Inspector General’s report found that prosecutions of criminals who sought guns under the Obama administration were “extremely low.”
After the Sandy Hook elementary school killing, Obama issued a report in January 2013 titled “Now is the Time: The President’s Plan to Protect our Children and our Communities by Reducing Gun Violence.” The plan stated:
The Attorney General would ask U.S. Attorneys to consider whether additional efforts would be appropriate in areas such as the prosecution of felons who illegally seek to obtain a firearm, and persons who attempt to evade the NICS system by providing false information.
But the Inspector General’s Office found that “there was no significant change in the number of NICS cases pursued for prosecution [after] the President’s January 2013 plan to reduce gun violence.”
The number of prosecutions “remained extremely low” since former Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled his “Smart on Crime” initiative in August 2013, the report found.
“Significant number of prosecutions remained extremely low,” the Inspector General’s Office concluded.
Prohibited people who lie on their gun applications or actually obtain guns under false pretenses are routinely referred to the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency. ATF prosecutions dropped precipitously under the Obama administration.
“The percentage of cases referred by ATF that were accepted for consideration of prosecution also has decreased,” according to the report.
U.S. Attorneys “accepted 80 percent of ATF field division referrals for consideration of prosecution in calendar years 2002 and 2003, 60 percent in FY 2008, and 38 percent in FY 2013,” the report added.
Keane calls the current background check program “broken.”
“The system we have is broken and needs to be fixed. What’s the point of extending background check when the system doesn’t work now?” he asked.
Stephen J. Morris, another former assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division who served in the bureau for 28 years, said in an interview that he also thinks the overall system of reporting background checks lacks accountability and is broken.
“There are a lot of laws that have been passed that mandate that records be submitted to the NICS at the FBI,” Morris said. “But in the end of the day, if there’s no accountability, if there’s no consequences for not entering the data, then the system is broken at that point.”
This report, by Richard Pollock, was cross posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.