Gunning for the 2nd Amendment: President Bush's Proposal to Fight Gun-Related Crime through Project Safe Neighborhoods Undermines Our Federal Structure and Threatens Our God-Given Right to Self-Defense. (Law Enforcement)

By Lee, Robert W. | The New American, August 12, 2002 | Go to article overview

Gunning for the 2nd Amendment: President Bush's Proposal to Fight Gun-Related Crime through Project Safe Neighborhoods Undermines Our Federal Structure and Threatens Our God-Given Right to Self-Defense. (Law Enforcement)


Lee, Robert W., The New American


During remarks at a National Governors' Association Conference in Washington on February 26, 2001, President George W. Bush recalled that "the Framers of the Constitution believed that our freedom is best preserved when power is dispersed." Consequently, they "limited and enumerated the Federal Government's powers and reserved the remaining functions of government to the States." He pledged that he was "going to make respect for federalism a priority in this administration."

A few weeks later he proposed Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) as the centerpiece of his administration's crime-fighting agenda. The plan called for massively expanding federal authority and spending ostensibly to wage war on gun-related crime. Among other things, 113 new federal (and some 600 state and local) prosecutors were to be assigned full-time to federalizing gun control offenses previously handled at the state and local levels.

Project Safe Neighborhoods is an expansion of Project Exile, the program instigated in 1997 by an ambitious federal prosecutor in Richmond, Virginia, who began aggressively prosecuting handgun violations normally reserved for state courts. Promptly endorsed by the National Rifle Association and backed by candidate Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign, the concept is predicated on the perilous assumption that existing gun control laws should be stringently enforced to forego the need for new ones. It thereby undermines two key tenets of the traditional pro-gun position: That existing federal anti-gun laws are unconstitutional (so should be repealed, not enforced); and that gun control legislation does not reduce violent crime.

A May 28, 2002 Policy Analysis paper published by the Washington-based Cato Institute reveals the extent to which Project Safe Neighborhoods contradicts the president's rhetorical commitment to federalism. Entitled "There Goes the Neighborhood: The Bush-Ashcroft Plan to 'Help' Localities Fight Gun Crime," the report also addresses some of the probable deleterious side effects of PSN. For example, author Gene Healy, an attorney and Cato senior editor, points out that "using the tactic approved by the Bush administration in Project Safe Neighborhoods, the federal government could dictate increased prosecution of virtually any crime within the ambit of the states' police powers."

Healy recalls that the U.S. Constitution specifies only three federal crimes (counterfeiting, piracy, and treason), yet by the early 1990s "there were more than 3,000 federal crimes on the books." And whereas federal criminal statutes once "focused principally on crimes affecting federal interests, today most such statutes proscribe conduct that is already covered by state criminal law." Regarding Project Exile, he cites federal Judge Robert E. Payne's warning that, "carried to its logical extreme [the argument for Exilel would make federal officers responsible for prosecuting all serious crimes in federal courts," a development that would result in "a federal police force with the attendant risk of the loss of liberty which that presents. …

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