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This special collection brings together evidence and insights from nonprofits, foundations, and research organizations working to understand the full impact of firearm use and gun violence in the US. By providing us with analyses of current state and federal laws as well as valuable data on suicides, homicides, accidents, and mass shootings, these organizations seek to inform sound public policy and to curb this ongoing public health epidemic.

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"Gun Violence" by M+R Glasgow licensed under CC 2.0

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The Enforcement Gap

October 1, 2004

AGSF, a non-profit gun policy research group, examined government data on firearm prosecutions and violent crimes during the first three years of the Bush administration's signature gun enforcement initiative, known as "Project Safe Neighborhoods," a project that has funneled more than $1 billion into gun enforcement efforts across the country. The AGSF report shows that despite this increase in spending, prosecutions for most types of firearm offenses are declining or remain below pre-Bush administration levels, and 20 of the 22 major federal gun laws are enforced so infrequently that they might as well not exist. Last year, for example, the Justice Department brought only: - 188 cases for gun trafficking, despite the recovery of 300,000 guns showing signs of trafficking. This represents a 5 percent decline in prosecutions from 2002 levels. - 32 cases against corrupt gun stores, even though the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE) has concluded that "dirty dealers" are the leading source of firearms recovered in gun trafficking operations. Prosecutors in 29 states that are home to 50,675 licensed dealers filed not even one case against a gun retailer in 2003. - 532 cases for lying on a firearms background check form -- an 8% decrease -- even though more than 126,000 people submitted false information on the forms and despite Attorney General John Ashcroft's emphasis on pursuing these cases. - 5 cases for illegally selling a gun to a minor, even though more than 30,000 gun crimes were committed by youths age 17 or under; - 234 cases for possessing or selling a stolen firearm, despite nearly 40,000 stolen guns being recovered by law enforcement and returned to their rightful owner; and - 89 cases for possessing or selling a firearm with an obliterated serial number -- a sign that the gun was sold illegally -- despite the fact that police recover thousands of guns with missing serial numbers each year during criminal investigations. The overall number of federal firearm prosecutions has increased in each of the last four years, rising from 7,124 in 2000 to 11,864 in 2003. Ninety-four percent of the increase, however, comes from prosecutions under just two statutes: one that outlaws possession of guns by convicted felons and another that makes the use of a gun in the commission of a violent felony or drug crime a separate federal offense in addition to any violation of state law.

Policy Recommendations & Models