Economics has a concept called “revealed preference.” The gist is that a person’s observed actions reveal more about their preferences than what a person might profess to prefer. As applied to anti-gun politicians, despite all the noise they might make about stopping the criminal misuse of guns, their actions reveal that their policies are designed to attack the rights of law-abiding Americans.
Consider, anti-gun politicians ceaselessly propose new gun control laws they claim will stop criminal actors from misusing firearms. However, many of these same policymakers are indifferent to the woeful federal prosecution rates of those who misuse or try to obtain a firearm illegally under current law. In certain jurisdictions, these politicians have actively worked to undermine law enforcement officers and prosecutors’ ability to bring those who commit violence with firearms to justice and sufficiently incapacitate dangerous individuals. Therefore, the rational observer comes to understand that, as those who break the law don’t stand to be punished, the real aim of gun control is to restrict the law-abiding.
The most prominent item on the gun control wish list in recent years is the criminalization of private firearm transfers, sometimes inaccurately referred to as “universal background checks.” The policy would force law-abiding gun owners to obtain government background checks before transferring firearms to their neighbors, friends, or even extended family. While seeking to foist this burden on the law-abiding, anti-gun politicians have shown little interest in punishing criminals who fail such background checks.
In 2018, the U.S. Government Accountability Office published a report titled, “Few Individuals Denied Firearms Purchases Are Prosecuted and ATF Should Assess Use of Warning Notices in Lieu of Prosecutions.” The document studied the lack of prosecutions of prohibited persons who attempted to obtain firearms but were denied by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) after filling out the required Form 4473.
Lying on a form 4473 is two separate crimes. It is a crime when a person “knowingly makes any false statement or representation with respect to the information required by this chapter to be kept in the records of a person licensed under this chapter,” such as the Form 4473. A violation of this provision is punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment. It is also a crime for a person to “make any false or fictitious oral or written statement” to a dealer “with respect to any fact material to the lawfulness of the sale.” A violation of this provision is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.
To be sure, NICS isn’t perfect. Being denied by the NICS system does not automatically mean that an individual is in fact prohibited from possessing firearms and there is a sizeable number of improper denials each year. Moreover, given the array of nonviolent crimes that could result in a firearms prohibition, it would not be wise to prosecute every single firearms denial. However, the magnitude of the dearth of prosecutions for lying on Form 4473 goes well beyond sensible prosecutorial discretion.
The GAO report stated,
Federal NICS checks resulted in about 112,000 denied transactions in fiscal year 2017, of which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) referred about 12,700 to its field divisions for further investigation. U.S. Attorney’s Offices (USAO) had prosecuted 12 of these cases as of June 2018.
The FBI’s 2017 NICS Operations Report gave a breakdown of calendar year 2017 denials by prohibited person category. 47,179 were denied for having a conviction that met the federal definition of a felony. More than 14,000 were denied for being under active indictment or because they were a fugitive. Those who perpetually seek to disarm those implicated in an increasing array of interpersonal circumstances should know that almost 12,000 were denied for a domestic violence conviction or an active restraining order.
To reiterate, for FY 2017 there were a grand total of 12 prosecutions out of 112,000 denials. When, all else being equal, there is a 1 in 10,000 chance of being prosecuted for a crime in which the perpetrator necessarily offers himself up to the government, the goal isn’t public safety, it’s to control the law-abiding.
President Joe Biden has repeatedly advocated for the criminalization of private firearm transfers - along with a ban on 9mm handguns and gun confiscation. However, the president dismisses the notion of enforcing existing law against actual criminals.
In 2013, NRA-ILA Director of Federal Affairs Jim Baker met with then-Vice President Biden. Baker asked Biden about the lack of prosecutions for those who lie of Form 4473. Biden replied, "And to your point, Mr. Baker, regarding the lack of prosecutions on lying on Form 4473s, we simply don't have the time or manpower to prosecute everybody who lies on a form, that checks a wrong box, that answers a question inaccurately." Biden’s position is clear from his actions: further burden law-abiding Americans with new gun control, while letting actual criminals go free. Since that encounter, Biden’s position has taken on an air of self-interest given his son Hunter’s potential dishonesty on a Form 4473 in 2018.
This indifference to violent crime, while advocating for gun control extends far beyond the federal government. The increase in violent crime in many of the nation’s urban centers has been aided by politicians that seek to curtail the rights of law-abiding gun owners.
Late last year, the Washington, D.C. government learned about the nature of its violence problem. An analysis of the victims and perpetrators of crimes involving firearms determined that a vanishingly small portion of the population is responsible for the bulk of the city’s firearm violence. A government-sponsored report noted,
This small number of very high risk individuals are identifiable, their violence is predictable, and therefore it is preventable. Based on the assessment of data and the series of interviews conducted, [National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform] estimates that within a year, there are at least 500 identifiable people who rise to this level of very high risk, and likely no more than 200 at any one given time. These individuals comprise approximately 60-70% of all gun violence in the District.
The report went on to explain that “Approximately 86 percent of homicide victims and suspects were known to the criminal justice system prior to the incident,” and “most victims and suspects with prior criminal offenses had been arrested about 11 times for about 13 different offenses by the time of the homicide.” Given that so much of this dangerous population interacts with the criminal justice system, incapacitating these individuals through vigorous prosecution and stiffer prison sentences should be relatively simple and would go a long way in promoting public safety.
Rather than focusing on cracking down on suspected violent criminals, the federal enclave’s government recently announced a plan to provide them with “life coaches.”
A June 1, Washington Post article titled, “D.C. gun seizures are soaring — but charges aren’t sticking,” also highlighted problems with the federal enclave’s approach to violent crime. The item noted, “About half the people charged with murder typically have a prior gun arrest, according to police, though not necessarily a conviction.” Describing one week in the city, the paper explained, “D.C. police arrested 23 people for gun offenses; prosecutors did not pursue charges against 13 of them. Of the 10 people charged, six were convicted, with sentences ranging from participation in a diversion program to 18 months behind bars, court records show. Four are awaiting trial.”
To his credit, D.C.’s chief of police has appeared to express frustration with the District’s political class. The Post noted,
At a news conference to announce a crime-fighting initiative last fall, D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III told reporters and residents that prosecutors’ declining to bring cases was “very frustrating,” and he worried people released from custody pending further investigation could be “picking up another gun.” He said he wanted investigators to build solid cases but added: “I also want to see people going to jail and being held accountable when they violate our community and go out there and use illegal firearms in our city.”
The Post also pointed out, “The increase in gun violence has led to a clamor from some residents to crack down on offenders, even as members of the D.C. Council work to restrict police tactics as part of efforts ushered in by social justice protests in the summer of 2020.”
As her city has descended into chaos, Mayor Muriel Bowser has been eager to shift blame to law-abiding gun owners. In January 2020, Bowser sent a letter to Virginia lawmakers asking that they pass a raft of gun controls for the benefit of the federal enclave. That same month, at an event held by the handgun prohibitionist U.S. Conference of Mayors, Bowser called for federal gun control. Blaming Maryland and Virginia for the sorry state of her city, Bowser said “I want the Congress to be able to pass a sensible bill that protects us.”
New York politicians are no better- working to enact sweeping new gun controls while failing to incapacitate those suspected of actual criminal violence.
On May 20, the New York Post reported, “Charges have been dropped against the teenage rapper accused of shooting an NYPD officer during a scuffle in the Bronx earlier this year, officials confirmed.”
An earlier item from the Post explained that the adolescent “was on probation in a 2020 gun case when he allegedly got into a scuffle with police officers in Belmont on Jan. 18 and shot the 27-year-old cop.” According to the Post reports, the 2020 case involved assault and gun charges. Even after the young man was charged with shooting the police officer, but before the charges were dropped, the aspiring rapper was released on $250,000 bail.
NYPD Police Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch was understandably upset with the state’s treatment of the case. Lynch told the press,
This absurd decision should outrage every New Yorker who wants to get illegal guns off our streets. There is no dispute that this individual was caught carrying an illegal gun for the second time. If perps like this face absolutely no consequences, even after shooting a cop, we have to ask: why bother sending us out to get the guns at all?
Sadly, that wasn’t the only instructive crime story out of the Big Apple that week. On May 22, a man launched an unprovoked attack on the Q subway train in Manhattan, shooting and killing one person. The suspect was taken into custody on second degree murder charges two days later.
Following the alleged shooter’s capture, ABC News provided readers with a summary of the suspect’s criminal history. The news outlet wrote,
[the suspect] has about 20 prior arrests, including an outstanding gun charge from last year, according to sources. He also has prior arrests for assault, robbery, menacing and grand larceny, sources said.
[the suspect] has three cases that are still pending, including an April arrest for fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property for allegedly being found with a stolen motorcycle, as well as a June 2021 arrest for violating a protective order and March 2021 arrest for assault.
The anti-gun political class has again and again revealed their disinterest in confronting actual crime perpetrated with firearms with the myriad laws already on the books. Therefore, law-abiding people are left to correctly conclude that new gun control measures are designed as an attack on their fundamental rights.