A New Report Casts Doubt on the Assumption That Gun Law Violators Are a Public Menace
A new report on federal firearm offenses shows that the vast majority involve illegal possession, often without aggravating circumstances or a history of violence. The data undermine the assumption that people who violate gun laws are predatory criminals who pose a serious threat to public safety. They also highlight the racially disproportionate impact of such laws, which is especially troubling given their excessive breadth.
In FY 2021, the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) reports, 89 percent of federal firearm offenders were legally disqualified from owning guns, typically because of a felony record. Half of those cases involved “aggravating criminal conduct.” But in the other half, the defendant’s “status as a prohibited person solely formed the basis of the conviction.”
The aggravating conduct, which triggered sentencing enhancements under the USSC’s guidelines, covered a wide range.
In 11 percent of the cases involving aggravating conduct, “an offender or co-participant discharged a firearm.” In 4 percent of the cases where a gun was fired, someone was killed; someone was injured in 18 percent of those cases.
Some cases involved a stolen gun, a gun with an “altered or obliterated serial number,” or a prohibited weapon, such as a machine gun or a sawed-off shotgun. Some defendants were engaged in gun trafficking. In more than a quarter of the cases, “the firearm facilitated, or had the potential to facilitate, another felony offense (most commonly drug trafficking).” That last category would include drug dealers who never threatened or injured anyone but kept guns for self-defense.
As you would expect, aggravating factors resulted in relatively long prison sentences. The average was 55 months for cases involving stolen firearms or guns with altered serial numbers, 58 months in cases involving a prohibited weapon, 62 months in cases involving gun trafficking, and 119 months—nearly 10 years—in cases involving “the use of, or conspiracy to use, a firearm in connection with a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime.” In other words, the combination of drug possession and gun possession can be enough to put someone behind ba
Article from Reason.com