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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

Hatch says Justice not prosecuting gun crimes

September 15, 1999
Web posted at: 5:12 p.m. EDT (2112 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) accused the Justice Department Wednesday of shirking its responsibility of prosecuting criminals accused of violating gun laws, making the case against putting new gun control measures on the books.

Hatch released a committee staff report detailing a downward trend in Justice Department prosecutions for firearms violations.

"Actions speak louder than words whether we're talking about how the government deals with gun offenders or how it deals with terrorists," Hatch said.

Hatch was joined by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), Fraternal Order of Police President Gil Gallagos, Columbine shooting victim Rich Castaldo and his father, Rick Castaldo.

"It is wrong to shift the debate from controlling criminals to controlling inanimate objects," Rick Castaldo said.

The Senate passed a juvenile justice bill in the spring which included gun control measures, but it is stalled in conference committee with the House bill, which did not include any gun control measures.

"Fighting over esoteric language on how to impact gun shows won't impact crime, believe me, I've been there," said Sessions, a former U.S. Attorney.

The report shows that although 100,000 people were stopped from purchasing guns by the instant background check system, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms referred just 200 for prosecution.

The committee report also says while Justice filed more than 7,000 charges in federal courts in 1992, they filed just 3,800 in 1998.

Hatch also criticized the administration for abandoning "Project Triggerlock," a program that brought firearm offenders to prosecution, and highlighted a similar local program from Richmond, Virginia, which he claimed contributed to a 30 percent decrease in homicides.

This is not the first time the Clinton Administration has been criticized over enforcement of gun laws. Hearings held by the House Judiciary Committee over the summer focused on the same issue.

The Clinton Administration has defended its record, saying gun groups are using the wrong statistics, looking only at the drop in prosecutions since 1992, when violent crime overall -- and thus prosecutions -- began to drop after historic highs. Critics also are not including state and local figures in the mix, administration officials have said.

"The combined number of state and federal weapons offenders sentenced to imprisonment is up almost 25 percent since 1992," Attorney General Janet Reno said recently. "This is during a period that the number of violent crimes committed with firearms dropped 27 percent."

Some crimes, such as those by teen-agers and children, are simply better handled by local authorities, Reno said, herself a former state attorney from Dade County, Florida.


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Wednesday, September 15, 1999

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