Obama’s ATF: Too Busy Gun Smuggling to Arrest Criminals?

A new report from Syracuse University researchers notes that the Obama administration fails to prosecute violent criminals who most likely contribute to gun-related violence. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is supposed to investigate and arrest those who violate federal gun laws (e.g., felons in possession, straw purchasers).

Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) reports that January 2011 was “the lowest level to which federal weapons prosecutions have fallen since January 2001, when they were 445 at the time President George W. Bush assumed office.” That quote is the basis for this report, because history contains some interesting trends, as shown in the graph below.

To understand the complete trend, see TRAC’s graph showing the gradual decline in ATF referrals from its peak in 2004 continuing through early 2011. (Annual data for 2009-2010 unavailable for inclusion in above graph.)

When George H.W. Bush took office, the earliest TRAC data available indicates that the ATF began a trend of increasing referrals to federal prosecutors.

When Clinton became president in 1993, his "assault weapons" ban was one of the most sweeping gun control laws ever passed by Congress. But while Clinton sought to restrict gun ownership for law-abiding citizens, criminal prosecution of federal gun laws declined. TRAC data shows that during the Reno Department of Justice (DOJ), ATF referrals for prosecution dropped 44.3% from 1992 to 1998, before rebounding to 1992 (pre-Clinton) levels by 2000.

Here’s another example of Clinton’s attitude of “treat the law-abiding as guilty until proven innocent, but give the benefit of the doubt to convicted felons.” Out of Clinton’s 141 pardons granted on his final day in office, 15 convicts were involved with the cocaine trade and four were firearms related, including one arms dealer.

Who’s more likely to use a firearm to commit a violent felony: a cocaine dealer or a law-abiding citizen?

The first Bush administration had no problem prosecuting federal firearms law-breakers: Under the Ashcroft DOJ, ATF referrals increased 59.5%.* TRAC concluded that Ashcroft’s commitment to enforcing existing law had a significant positive impact:

Another factor behind the startling growth in the ATF enforcement efforts may have been the active support of Attorney General John Ashcroft since the Bush Administration first came into office…

Ashcroft may have been the most pro-gun attorney general in recent history, authoring an opinion that the Second Amendment was an individual right.