By Jordy Yager - 02/22/13 07:03 PM EST
Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee are calling on President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute more people for lying on their firearm permit applications and committing other gun-related crimes.
In letters to Obama and Holder on Friday, the group of 23 GOP lawmakers — led by Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (Va.) — highlighted a declining number of federal weapons prosecutions in recent years, as well as a low number of prosecutions of people who have had their gun permit applications rejected.
“A prosecution rate this low is not indicative of a Department of Justice that takes the act of illegally attempting to acquire a firearm seriously,” Goodlatte said in a statement accompanying the letters.
“We must all be looking for ways to prevent senseless acts of violence and the taking of innocent life but the best place to start would be enforcing the laws that Congress has already enacted.”
The letters pull largely from a recent Syracuse University study that found the number of federal weapons prosecutions fell from about 11,000 under President George W. Bush’s administration in 2004 to about 7,770 under the Obama administration in 2012.
The study also shows that despite the decline in recent years, federal weapons prosecutions were higher in 2012 than at any point prior to 2001. The GOP letters do not include this statistic.
The Republican call for stricter enforcement of current gun laws has also been made repeatedly by the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the face of the largely Democratic push for tighter gun restrictions after a gunman at the Sandy Hook Elementary School killed 20 children and six adults.
“We need to enforce the thousands of gun laws that are currently on the books,” said the NRA’s chief executive Wayne LaPierre before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month. “Prosecuting criminals who misuse firearms works. Unfortunately, we've seen a dramatic collapse in federal gun prosecutions in recent years.”
The Syracuse University study tried to determine exactly how frequently current gun laws were being enforced, but found that due to “the diversity of statutes, there is no single best way to assess the level of federal gun prosecutions.”
The study also found that local and state police departments have more overall resources to bring weapons violators to court than “the much smaller number [of] federal agencies and U.S. Attorneys” and that “state and local gun prosecutions almost certainly dwarf anything that is done by the federal government.”
The letters also cited numbers from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS), which found in 2010 that only 62 prosecutions and 4,700 investigations arose from more than 76,000 people failing to pass their instant background checks when attempting to buy a gun.
The Republicans asked Holder to give the committee annual records for the number of investigations, prosecutions and convictions of people who have failed their background checks or committed a firearms-related crime.
In addition to Goodlatte, the letters were signed by Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.), Trent Franks (Ariz.), Howard Coble (N.C.), Lamar Smith (Texas), Steve Chabot (Ohio), Spencer Bachus (Ala.), Darrell Issa (Calif.), Randy Forbes (Va.), Steve King (Iowa), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Ted Poe (Texas), Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Steve Marino (Pa.), Trey Gowdy (S.C.), Mark Amodei (Nev.), Raul Labrador (Idaho), Blake Farenthold (Texas), George Holding (N.C.), Doug Collins (Ga.), Ron DeSantis (Fla.) and Keith Rothfus (Pa.).
Many Democrats on Capitol Hill have joined Obama in pushing for tighter gun laws, including a ban on assault-style weapons, a limit to the number of rounds a magazine can hold, a requirement for universal background checks at gun shows and private sales, and strict prohibitions on people with mental illness owning a firearm.