House Republicans demand data on gun law enforcement

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As the Obama administration urges Congress to draft new gun control laws, a key group of House Republicans is demanding information from the administration regarding the enforcement of gun laws already on the books.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., as well as the 22 other Republicans on the committee, sent a letter to President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder asking for 11 years' worth of data pertaining to the prosecution of federal firearms violations.

"It is imprudent to simply call for more laws, without examining the efficacy of the current laws," the letter says.

It notes that federal weapons prosecutions have fallen to the lowest levels in over a decade and points to statistics that suggest they should be higher. For instance, the letter points out that in 2010 there were 76,142 denials following instant background checks for guns, and of those, 4,732 were referred to field offices for investigation. However, only 62 prosecutions resulted from those referrals.

"A prosecution rate this low is not indicative of a Department of Justice that takes the act of illegally attempting to acquire a firearm seriously," the letter says.

The argument that the administration should focus on enforcing existing laws before creating new ones was employed by NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre when he testified before the Senate earlier this year. "Unfortunately, we've seen a dramatic collapse in federal gun prosecutions in recent years," LaPierre said in his testimony. "Overall in 2011, federal weapons prosecutions per capita were down 35 percent from their peak in the previous administration. That means violent felons, gang members and the mentally ill who possess firearms are not being prosecuted. And that's unacceptable."

The NRA has put up some of the staunchest opposition to Mr. Obama's agenda for reducing gun violence, which includes proposals like expanding background checks and banning assault weapons.

House Republican leaders, meanwhile, have said Congress has a responsibility to look at the issue, but they've suggested the House will wait until the Senate acts.

Goodlatte told Roll Call today that just because he's asking Mr. Obama and Holder for more information on existing laws doesn't mean he's not interested in pursuing new legislation.

"The Congress is going to act on this issue," he said. "The Senate is at work on it, and we are as well. Our goal is to do anything we can do keep firearms out of the hands of people who should not have them."

Goodlatte expressed openness to expanding the background check system for gun purchases cracking down on gun traffickers. "We believe that the law can be improved, and there's no question we will be working on ways to prevent criminals and people with serious mental illness from obtaining firearms, while at the same time protecting the right of law-abiding citizens to have firearms," he said.

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