Here's a great idea, enforce gun laws already on the books

With all due respect to Mitch McConnell, Republicans shouldn’t even be talking about a gun-control deal unless that deal includes doing something about the fundamental problem: The utter refusal of the federal government and most Democrat-run states and counties to prosecute ordinary, common gun crimes.

Take any example you like: In Philadelphia, the majority of gun cases — 60 percent — are simply dismissed with no prosecution, according to the local district attorney’s office. That’s double the dismissal rate of 2016 — and the district attorney is bragging about how few gun crimes get prosecuted.

Straw-buyer cases are almost never prosecuted unless they are part of a big organized-crime investigation. “Lie and try” cases — in which prohibited buyers attempt, often successfully, to beat the background-check system — are almost never prosecuted at all, which is why Hunter Biden is not in prison on federal gun charges. Possession cases are routinely dismissed without prosecution. In Illinois, the clearance rate for gun crimes short of murder is a measly 33 percent — meaning that two-thirds of cases go unresolved. A third of the murderers in Baltimore are already on probation or parole for another crime. Etc.

Passing new gun laws that we are not going to enforce is not going to do anything. And we certainly are not going to solve the problem of murders committed by habitual criminals — about 80 percent of murderers in the United States have prior arrests records and more than half have a prior conviction, often on a violent-crime charge — by passing new regulations on sporting-goods stores.

Less than 2 percent of the prisoners in custody today were in possession of a firearm obtained from a retail source at the time they committed their crimes — the only crime involving licensed firearms dealers that really matters is straw-buying, which licensed dealers don’t have the discretion to police on their own and which our police and prosecutors insistently ignore because it would be politically unpopular to prosecute these sympathetic criminals, almost all of whom are, on paper, first-time offenders.

There are a few things that could be done unilaterally by President Biden, such as directing U.S. attorneys to prioritize straw-buyer cases and to direct ATF to actually deal with the delayed-denial problem by retrieving something approximately 100 percent of the firearms that are sold to prohibited buyers because of deficiencies in the background-check system. Senator McConnell should not lift a finger until President Biden has done what he can do on his own on those fronts.

Congressional action should include conditioning federal grants and other aid — money for law enforcement, HUD money, etc. — on getting those gun-crime dismissal rates below 5 percent instead of above 60 percent. Reforms are needed across-the-board, from policing practices to parole and probation.

If we aren’t dealing with the habitual-criminal issue – the only issue that really matters when it comes to the overwhelming majority of our violent crime — then we aren’t dealing with the problem at all: Republicans would only be selling out law-abiding Americans’ gun rights by inches. And there will be hell to pay for that.

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