Clinton Eases Prosecution of Illegal Weapons Cases

By Scully, Sean | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 23, 1999 | Go to article overview

Clinton Eases Prosecution of Illegal Weapons Cases


Scully, Sean, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The Clinton administration has backed off from an aggressive Bush-era crackdown on illegal guns, resulting in a marked decline in prosecutions, a Justice Department official told the Senate yesterday.

The administration was concerned the older program "duplicates what state and local authorities were doing," said Andrew L. Vita, assistant director of field operations for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' Washington field office. "The federal program should be focused more on the flow of guns - crime guns - into those communities."

That shift, generated by an Office of Management and Budget memo in 1994, caused the Justice Department to switch its focus from street-level criminals to major gun traffickers, Mr. Vita testified at a hearing of two Senate Judiciary subcommittees.

Prosecutions under "Project Trigger Lock," established under President Bush, have dropped from 7,048 in 1992 to 3,807 last year, according to the U.S. Attorneys Annual Statistical Report. That drop prompted committee Republicans to question the administration's commitment to fighting the gun trade.

The early success of Project Trigger Lock, which began in April 1991, shows that existing federal laws are sufficient to deal with gun crime, said Sen. Strom Thurmond, South Carolina Republican and chairman of the criminal justice and oversight subcommittee.

"Those laws are on the books for one reason - to be enforced," Mr. Thurmond told Mr. Vita.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and chairman of the youth violence subcommittee, complained that the administration is ignoring existing laws while pressing for "symbolic" measures such as a ban on possession of guns near schools or banning the transfer of weapons to juveniles. …

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