What Firearms Offenses Look Like

Jul 26, 2022

Seems we like to have ideas of what “typical” examples of everything from apples to zoos look like. It’s nothing unique, it’s actually part of our desire to understand what things usually look like so we have a baseline to help decide if something’s really unique.

Today, it appears we live in the age of hyperbole. Eking out a close win in sports, for example, is described as a “win for the ages.” A good play becomes stupendous, breath-taking, or un-be-leviable!

Normal’s no longer good enough.

Because of the media’s propensity toward hyperbole, we don’t always see what true experts consider “normal.” Their definitions of normal can be eye-opening (no hyperbole intended).

Consider the United States Sentencing Commission’s July 14 report on Federal Firearms Offenses.

According to the report, “The Commission has published reports on various aspects of firearms offenses, including reports on armed career criminals, mandatory minimum penalties, and firearms offenders’ recidivism rates. The Commission’s prior research shows that firearms offenders are generally younger, have more extensive criminal history, and are more likely to commit a new crime than other offenders.”

Previous reports, they explain, show that violent offenders are “more likely than other offenders to engage in violent criminal behavior.” OK, that’s a blinding glimpse of the obvious, but sometimes seeing the obvious spelled out is helpful. In this instance, it helps establish that a large majority of violent offenses aren’t committed by people under the influence of “evil guns” - guns really are inanimate objects. They’re employed by criminals when criminals do do what criminals do- commit crimes.

Key takeaways from the Sentencing Commission’s report don’t make any case for more gun regulation. It does make pretty clear that laws -when enforced- take care of crime. And sentencing, not releasing them removes violent criminals from the population.

The guidelines show, tor example:

-the vast majority (88.8%) of firearms offenders sentenced under federal guidelines were prohibited from possessing a firearm. They willingly broke the law simply by having a gun. Intent was deadly in doubt.

This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone: criminals don’t obey the law.

And…approximately one third (32.4%) of offenders prohibited from possessing a firearm committed an offense involving a stolen firearm or firearm with an altered or obliterated serial number.

This number is frequently used to swell the numbers of “ghost guns” used in crimes by legislators pushing for more regulations. It’s also used to make the case for prohibiting printed or owner-completed kits. They deliberately fail to discriminate between them because it doesn’t make a case against “ghost guns” if you realize the majority of those “crime guns” were altered, not assembled.

Regarding that vast majority of firearms offenders quoted (88.8%) who were already prohibited from possessing a firearm: that group includes “offenders with a prior felony conviction or status in another prohibited class, including aliens unlawfully in the United States, fugitives from justice, or persons who unlawfully use or are addicted to controlled substances.”

Makes you wonder why “the rest of us” need more regulation, doesn’t it?

The report also demonstrates a judicial trend toward shorter sentences.

In 2007, 70.8 % of sentences were “within federal sentencing guidelines.” By 2021, that number had dropped to 49.6%. That’s a 36.3% increase in shorter sentencing.

Despite that trend, the report says there’s still an “anchoring effect” by the guidelines. Simply put, the federal sentencing guidelines prevent more liberal judges from straying too-far from the established norms when sentencing criminals.

One final anchoring point: those violent criminals sentenced in 2021 for firearms violations were far more likely to have had one-or more- prior criminal convictions (93.6%). But the differences between their numbers of offenses and other offenses is eye-opening.

Firearms offenders had an average of 9.4 prior convictions. Drug offenders had 7.7, fraud offenders dropped to 5.6 priors, and immigration offenders “only” 4.2 prior convictions.

What does it all mean?

First, can’t make too-much from one study (unless you’re looking to drive a narrative).

But it’s tough not to look at this one and realize that “tough on crime” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone.

It also makes a compelling case for taking responsibility for your own personal security. If you encounter a criminal, odds are they’re far more experienced at violent encounters than you.

We’ll keep you posted.

— Jim Shepherd