If you lied to buy a firearm, fear not the feds.
Your chances of being prosecuted by the Justice Department for falsifying information to illegally buy a gun are almost zero.
Reviews by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in fiscal 2017 led to 112,000 gun purchase denials because individuals were in forbidden categories, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) investigated 12,700 of those cases.
How many of the investigated cases resulted in prosecutions?
That’s 0.09 percent of the cases ATF investigated.
That means the crooks, the wife beaters and the homicidal maniacs who lie to get a gun have little reason to worry that Uncle Sam will get them for faking on Form 4473. It lists nine questions designed to cull those who should not be strapped. The questions include: “Have you ever been convicted in any court of a felony,” “Are you a fugitive from justice,” and “Have you ever been adjudicated as a mental defective.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions attempted to boost prosecutions with a March 12, 2018, memo to local U.S. attorneys. “Criminals and other prohibited persons who attempt to thwart the background check process by lying on the required forms threaten to undermine this important crime prevention tool,” he wrote. “Such conduct cannot be tolerated. We must vigilantly protect the integrity of the background check system through appropriate prosecution of those who attempt to circumvent the law.”
Sessions instructed federal prosecutors “to enhance prosecution of cases involving false statements on ATF Form 4473,” which he called “lie-and-try” cases. Lying on the form is a felony that can bring up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
But DOJ’s deeds fall far short of Sessions’ declarations.
ATF blamed the almost invisible federal prosecution rate on the number of denial cases that more than doubled from fiscal 2011 to 2017 and the time-intensive nature of the investigations.
GAO’s report said U.S. attorneys “generally do not accept and prosecute denial cases that do not involve aggravating circumstances, as these cases can require significant effort for prosecutors relative to the short length of punishment and may offer little value to public safety because the offender does not obtain the firearm, compared to other cases involving gun violence.”
The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.
After suing the department to get records related to background checks, the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence found the laws are repeatedly and openly flouted.
“In those documents, we’ve seen time and time again dealers going ahead and transferring guns when someone answered a question on background check form ‘I am a felon,’ ‘I am subject to a restraining order,’ ‘I was dishonorably discharged from the military,’” said Avery Gardiner, co-president of the Brady Campaign in a phone interview. “So, people who are not allowed to buy guns are actually answering the form honestly and still get a gun.”
In a letter to Sessions in March, she and co-president Kris Brown said the documents point to the need for Justice to focus on dealers as well as buyers.
“These documents confirm that ATF has already identified many gun dealers that repeatedly engage in knowing or negligent straw transactions, but many of them are allowed to keep their licenses to sell guns,” they wrote.
The National Rifle Association had no comment.
Joe Davidson is a columnist with the Federal Insider, formerly the Federal Diary.