In pursuing the administration’s gun control agenda, Holder told lawmakers that the Justice Department could stand to increase the number of cases it prosecutes against people who have been denied federal permission to purchase a gun because they failed to pass a criminal background check.

Many Republicans, such as committee member Rep. Andy Harris (Md.), have long criticized that the Justice Department prosecutes a small fraction of the more than 83,000 people it denies the right to buy a gun. 

Republicans argue that no new background check laws should be implemented until the department steps up its prosecutions of those who are barred from buying guns but attempt to do so anyway.

Holder defended the department’s actions, saying it prioritizes prosecutions based on who it feels would do the most harm to society if left unpunished.

“What we try to do is focus on those people who are most dangerous, who, if they did get a weapon inappropriately, are most likely to do something bad [or] harmful with it,” said Holder.

“With those people who try to get guns and then are not prosecuted, yeah, the number perhaps ought to be a little higher, I don’t know.”

“Not everybody who was denied a gun was in fact dangerous. There are a whole bunch of reasons why,” he said. “There were a host of people who, if they had gotten guns, undoubtedly would have done things that were harmful to their fellow citizens.”

Harris shot back, “But not bad enough to prosecute.” He then switched topics in his line of questioning.