- March 12, 2018 at 11:21 pm #49679
Sessions calls on US attorneys to aggressively prosecute gun buyers who lie on background checks
WASHINGTON – Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday 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, one of several steps Justice Department officials outlined as part of the Trump administration’s response to last month’s deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
The Justice Department also will increase the presence of law enforcement officers at schools and continue to review the way law enforcement agencies respond to tips from the public, Sessions said.
“No child should have to fear going to school or walking the streets of their neighborhood,” Sessions said in a statement.
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” prosecute cases against people who are prohibited from having firearms and lie on a federal form to pass the background check.
The announcement comes nearly a month after the massacre that left 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and as Trump’s administration rolls out policy proposals that focus largely on school safety and mental health rather than gun control. The White House announced Sunday that it would help provide firearms training to some schoolteachers and establish a Federal Commission on School Safety to be chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Neither the Justice Department initiatives nor Trump’s plan contain significant proposals to change gun laws. Instead, Sessions’ actions enhance existing programs and call for more aggressively enforcing current law. The White House has also backed away from Trump’s initial call to raise the minimum age to purchase some guns from 18 to 21 years old.
The National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers lobby, along with other groups sharply oppose the idea of arming teachers. Many of the students who survived the Parkland shooting – along with gun control groups – have called for tighter restrictions on gun purchases. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said that Democrats will push for passing universal background checks, legislation on protection orders and a debate on banning assault-style weapons.
Such measures are opposed by the National Rifle Association, which endorsed Trump and spent an estimated $30 million to get him elected.
“Despite all the tough talk from the president, all the televised meetings where he talked about significant change, the [Trump] plan is a moral abomination that centers on buying teachers guns,” said Peter Ambler, executive director of Giffords, the gun control organization founded by Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman who survived being shot in the head in 2011.
“The idea that you can turn schools into fortresses and protect them as to opposing the root cause is plain wrong,” Ambler said. “My mom spent most of her career as a public school teacher. And the idea of her groping a handgun or an AR-15 trying to stop someone massacring kids with an assault weapon is insane.”
Sessions said the Justice Department will help state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies hire more “school resource officers,” sworn law enforcement officers responsible for preventing crime and protecting schools. Using existing programs, the department will provide support for firearms and “situational awareness training” to school and law enforcement personnel, he said.
Sessions also has taken an incremental step toward banning “bump stocks,” the devices that allow a shooter to fire a semiautomatic firearm as though it was an automatic weapon. On Saturday, the attorney general submitted to the Office of Management and Budget a proposed regulation on bump stocks.
Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock attached a bump stock to his semiautomatic firearm and effectively turned it into a machine gun that left 58 people dead and hundreds more injured in a matter of minutes. After that incident, the NRA said that bump stocks “should be subject to additional regulations.”
The bump stock proposal requires OMB’s approval and public comments before they can be banned.
In 2010, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives concluded that it could not regulate bump stocks because such devices did not meet the legal definition of a machine gun. But Sessions, recently speaking to a group of state attorneys general, said he believed the devices could be banned.
The effort is likely to face lawsuits from manufacturers who cite ATF’s original opinion from 2010.
Federal agencies are required by law to report to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) the relevant records about individuals who are prohibited from possessing a gun under federal law.
Sessions is calling on the FBI and other relevant agencies to certify within 45 days that they are in compliance with that law or have a plan to become fully compliant.
There is no indication that 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, the suspect in the Parkland shooting, would have been stopped by an improved background check system. He legally purchased his AR-15 and several other firearms.
But NICS has come under scrutiny after several other high-profile shootings.
Dylann Roof, who killed nine people three years ago at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, was able to buy his gun after errors by the FBI and local law enforcement led to his name not being entered into criminal-record databases when he was arrested and had admitted to drug possession.
The Air Force said it failed to follow policies for alerting the FBI about the domestic violence conviction of Devin P. Kelley, who killed more than two dozen churchgoers in Sutherland Springs, Texas, last year. Because his conviction was not entered into NICS, Kelley was allowed to buy firearms.
Tens of thousands of people wanted by law enforcement officials were removed last year from the FBI criminal background check database that prohibits fugitives from justice from buying guns. The FBI purged the names from the database after the Justice Department changed its legal interpretation of “fugitive from justice” to say it pertains only to wanted people who have crossed state lines. That meant fugitives previously prohibited under federal law from purchasing firearms can buy them, unless barred for other reasons.
- March 13, 2018 at 9:29 am #49686Larry GibsonParticipant
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SCOTUS ruled many years ago you criminals can’t be prosecuted for lying on the federal background form because the 5th Amendment prohibits requiring self incrimination.
- March 13, 2018 at 2:50 pm #49690GoodsteelKeymaster
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To say nothing of the fact that they do not have the resources to enforce a law like that.
- March 13, 2018 at 5:30 pm #49693
Actually they do prosecute for that
September 29, 2016 5:16 pm
An audit of the federal firearms background check system released on Wednesday found that prosecutions for individuals who illegally try to buy a gun from firearms dealers have fallen to a new low.
The Department of Justice inspector general’sreview of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, revealed rare but consequential mistakes by the FBI, a dispute between federal agencies that left thousands of gun purchases in limbo, and questionable policy decisions by federal prosecutors.
The report’s authors criticized a U.S. Attorneys’ Office policy not to prosecute people for lying on background check forms while attempting to illegally acquire a firearm. Investigators found that the office did not prosecute such cases unless they were accompanied by other charges.
“We determined that, in general, USAOs most often prosecuted NICS denial cases when aggravated circumstances existed in addition to the prospective purchaser’s false ‘no’ answer to at least one question on the Form 4473,” the report said, referring to a common background check form for firearms purchases.
Prosecutors told Congress that “while the Department would prosecute particularly egregious false ‘no’ cases arising from NICS denials, it would prioritize prosecuting prohibited persons who actually obtained guns illegally as opposed to those who attempted to purchase a firearm by making false statements during the background process but were unsuccessful,” according to the report.
The USAO said the decision not to prosecute background check-related crimes was the result of a shift in policy by the Obama administration following the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, but the report found the decline in prosecutions started as early as 2003.
That year, 166 people who the FBI determined had lied on a gun background check, which is a federal felony, were considered for prosecution by the USAO. The report said prosecutions “dropped substantially” after that point.
The report shows that, between 2008 and 2015, the FBI denied 556,496 gun purchases following background checks. During that time period, the report shows that only 254 false statements were even considered for prosecution, amounting to a 0.04 percent prosecution rate.
The report indicated that the USAO does not believe the low prosecution rate is a problem and has no plan to reconsider its policies.
The report also found that the FBI made consequential, if rare, mistakes in processing gun background checks.
Justice Department investigators found that the FBI’s denials of gun purchases were overwhelmingly appropriate, with an accuracy rate of 99.8 percent.
“Although we found the overall FBI error rate was exceedingly low, even an isolated NICS process breakdown can have tragic consequences, as evidenced by the June 2015 fatal shooting at a Charleston, South Carolina church, where the NICS process, with timely and accurate data from local agencies, could have prevented the alleged shooter from purchasing the gun he allegedly used,” the report said. “A subsequent FBI Inspection Division (INSD) report attributed primary responsibility for the delay that allowed the firearm to be transferred to untimely responses and incomplete records at various state and local agencies that feed into NICS, a problem we identified more generally in our review.”
Investigators found that in six background checks they examined, the FBI determined that the person attempting to purchase a firearm was prohibited from doing so but didn’t inform the store processing the purchase for up to seven months. In another 59 cases, investigators say the FBI approved people who should have been denied.
The report also found state agencies that processed gun background checks through NICS didn’t properly update information in the system or inform the FBI of the outcome of their checks in all but one of the cases examined. It stated that the FBI lacks a way to track whether all necessary evidence has been gathered for pending background checks. Nor does the bureau review a potentially important database—which had information that could have stopped the sale of the Charleston shooter’s gun—during background checks.
- March 13, 2018 at 5:40 pm #49694
as to resources
Banned From Owning Guns, Many ‘Lie and Try’ to Buy Them Anyway. Few Are Punished for the Crime.
Here’s how some states are trying to fix that.
BY KATE MASTERS
·May 9, 2016
Earlier this year, a man with an outstanding criminal warrant lied on a background check form in an attempt to buy a firearm at a gun shop in the small town of Pittston, Pennsylvania. What happened next is very rare in the U.S.: The man was arrested before he left the store.
Submitting false information on a background check is a felony under federal law, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. But as many as 160,000 people are denied a gun purchase each year because they failed a check. Few are ever apprehended, much less prosecuted. Available federal and state data suggest that the percentage of arrests as a proportion of denied sales is extremely low — likely in the single digits.
Pennsylvania is one of eight states where lawmakers and police have sought to boost arrests and prosecutions by passing laws and implementing so-called “lie and try” policies requiring local law enforcement agencies to be notified whenever someone fails a background check. The goal is to give police a tool they can use to arrest dangerous individuals before they can secure a gun and possibly harm someone. In 32 states, a person who is blocked from buying a firearm at a licensed dealer can turn to a private seller who is not required to run a background check. One 2009 study found a strong proclivity towards further illegal behavior by denied gun purchasers, determining that a third of convicted criminals rejected when attempting to buy a gun are caught breaking another law during the next five years.
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In early April, Tennessee became the latest state to enact a “lie and try” law or policy, joining Pennsylvania, California, Colorado, Illinois, Utah, Oregon, and Virginia in doing so. The states currently considering similar measures include Maryland, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan, and New Hampshire.
Chris Scoda, the owner of Advanced Arms Gun Shop in Pittston, tells The Trace that the customer with the outstanding warrant who tried to buy a gun in his shop was a “nice gentleman” as he filled out his background check form. Scoda says he submitted the man’s paperwork for review by the Pennsylvania Instant Check System, which uses state and federal data to screen prospective buyers. According to Scoda, an examiner for the agency quickly flagged the warrant, and notified police, who showed up at his shop to make the arrest.
“Anytime somebody attempts to purchase a firearm unlawfully,” says Scoda, “I think the prosecution of that person is very important.”
Pennsylvania state police have investigated at least some denied gun purchases for over a decade, but until recent years, it was only a small percentage of the overall number. Then in late 2013, police there decided to investigate every failed background check, says Scott Price, a state police major. If a purchaser is denied because of an outstanding warrant, state police now immediately dispatch local officers to arrest the individual at the gun dealer, Price says.
Before the new policy was implemented, Price says, only blocked sales that raised the biggest red flags — like those for mental health commitments — were pursued. “But that left a whole body of denials that weren’t investigated,” he says. “So, we didn’t feel that that was the best public safety policy.”
The stepped up enforcement paid dividends. In 2013, Pennsylvania police investigated 620 failed background checks. The next year, the number of investigations soared, to 4,154. Arrests more than doubled.
By acting quickly on notifications of denied sales, Price says, officers are often able to nab “lie-and-try” offenders before they get very far. “We’ve had a great deal of success in actually making these arrests at the point of attempted purchase.” He adds that his officers have encountered people disqualified from firearms ownership for the gamut of reasons. “Anything from a minor offense — a DUI warrant or a failure to appear in court — up through armed robbery.”
Most states with laws or policies for clamping down on “lie and try” buyers require only that law enforcement is notified about a rejected purchaser — there’s no mandate that police act on that information. But Virginia and Oregon join Pennsylvania in compelling police to investigate every denied sale. Last year in Virginia, police arrested 1,265 denied purchasers. Oregon police arrested 40 buyers on the spot, and referred hundreds more cases to local departments for investigation.
“Lie and try” policies are uncharacteristically resistant to the partisan battles that frequently accompany firearm legislation. The new law in Tennessee is a prime example.
Earlier this spring, a different Tennessee bill that would have made it a crime to leave a loaded gun accessible to a child was squashed at the committee phase, thanks to the concerns of conservative legislators. On May 2, the state’s Republican governor, Bill Haslam, let a controversial campus carry measure lapse into law without his signature rather than approve it himself. The “lie and try” legislation, by contrast, cruised through with bipartisan support.
Tennessee’s version of the law focuses on domestic abusers, requiring that law enforcement be notified within 24 hours if a person subject to a restraining order attempts to buy a firearm. “It really doesn’t have anything to do with gun control,” says Democratic Representative Karen Camper, who co-sponsored the bill with Republican Janice Bowling. “I really didn’t get pushback from anyone.”
The National Rifle Association has never officially endorsed a “lie and try” policy, though in the past, the gun group has called on the federal government to address the low prosecution rate for prohibited persons who attempt to buy firearms. Shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, the gun lobby’s representatives asked the White House’s gun violence prevention task force to enforce federal laws that make it illegal to lie on a gun background check form.
“This is a program that I believe is largely something people on both sides of the aisle support,” says Scott Price, the Pennsylvania State Police major. “Even the NRA has always been a proponent of enforcing the laws that are on the books.”
The states that have enacted or are considering “lie and try” crackdowns are among those that maintain their own background check systems for screening gun buyers. The remaining majority of states — 29 in all — rely on the FBI to screen gun buyers. That means they’re also left to rely on federal law enforcement to punish people who’ve been deemed too high-risk to own guns but try to buy them anyway.
In a little-noticed piece of the executive actions that President Barack Obama rolled out in January, the FBI began partnering with the U.S. Digital Service on a set of “envisioned” enhancements to the federal background check system, one of which involves increasing the reporting of “lie and try” violators to local authorities. Certainly, federal law enforcement’s track record in policing those prohibited buyers leaves room for improvement.
Under current protocols, after a would-be gun buyer is denied by the FBI, the FBI can send that information to the Denial Enforcement branch of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. But according to a report by Ronald Frandsen, an analyst with the Regional Justice Information Service, a group that provides research for government agencies, the FBI forwards few cases to the ATF for investigation, and the ATF follows through on fewer still.
In 2010, more than 76,000 people failed a federal gun background check. Of those, 4,732 cases were passed to the ATF for further investigation. The majority of those cases involved felons, domestic abusers, and people with active protective orders against them.
A total of 62 were ultimately referred to U.S. attorneys for prosecution.
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