- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2000

Mother's Day and the advent of the Million Mom March placed special emphasis on protecting our children from violent crime. Nevertheless, the Clinton-Gore administration continues to talk more about new gun control measures, including gun buy-back programs and background checks at gun shows, rather than taking real action that would reduce crime and protect children.

In fact, the studies published by the Justice Department demonstrate that gun buy-back programs have "no effect" on crime and that more background checks at gun shows could affect only 2 percent of criminals' guns used in crime. However, my 15 years of experience as a federal prosecutor and as Alabama's attorney general have shown me there are a number of steps that, if effectively pursued, will reduce gun violence.

First, the Clinton-Gore administration should instruct every United States Attorney's Office to implement a Project CUFF ("Criminal Use of Firearms by Felons") under which a criminal caught with a firearm will be prosecuted in federal court. Creating partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies to bring cases to federal prosecutors will result in faster prosecutions and mandatory minimum sentences for violent criminals who carry firearms.

That is what Project Exile has accomplished in Richmond, Va., since 1997 reducing homicides by 65 percent and violent crime in general by 35 percent. That is the kind of program I carried out in Mobile, Ala., when I was the U.S. attorney. The program was so successful that criminals were afraid to carry a gun because of the certain prosecution and incarceration it would bring.

Inexplicably, the Clinton-Gore administration dropped this program. I have been arguing for a return to this basic crime-fighting approach for years, and I am glad to see the administration finally is beginning to take some small steps in this direction, but much more can and should be done now.

Second, the Clinton-Gore administration should instruct the Justice Department to begin aggressive prosecution of persons who are found to be illegally attempting to purchase a firearm as the result of a background check by the National Criminal Instant Check System ("NICS"). In the first 13 months of operation, the NICS system rejected 89,836 persons, including convicted felons and fugitives from justice, who were illegally attempting to purchase a firearm.

Although it is a crime to attempt to obtain a firearm illegally (carrying a prison sentence of up to 10 years), the Justice Department has indicated it has prosecuted fewer than 1 percent of the persons who failed background checks in their illegal attempt to purchase firearms. Prompt and aggressive prosecution of these cases can result in the incarceration of many dangerous criminals.

Third, the Clinton-Gore administration should investigate and prosecute the true major sources of firearms used in crime. Instead of focusing solely on the legal gun shows, which provide only about 2 percent of firearms used in crime, the administration should investigate and prosecute illegal sources of firearms used in crime, which provide approximately 89 percent of the firearms used in crime.

These illegal sources straw purchasers, firearms thieves and other illegal sellers of firearms on the street are violating existing laws. Tracing firearms used in crime to these criminal sources and aggressively enforcing these laws would be a huge step in drying up the major sources of firearms used in crime.

By focusing its energy on enforcing the many strong laws against the criminals who use, attempt to purchase, or illegally sell firearms, the Clinton-Gore administration can dramatically reduce firearms crime. Had the administration aggressively enforced these laws since 1993, our streets, our schools and our homes would have been much safer and thousands of innocent lives could have been saved. Project Exile has proven that, with a professional and coordinated effort, dramatic reductions in violent crime can be achieved.

It is time to stop talking about political programs that will not reduce crimes committed with firearms, and start implementing practical programs that will. The safety of our children is too important to do otherwise.

Jeff Sessions is a Republican member of the U.S. Senate from Alabama.

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