The police chief of Milwaukee called out Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — an opponent of gun safety regulation — for echoing National Rifle Association talking points about the uselessness of expanding background checks for all gun purchases. The organization argues that the government should enforce existing laws instead.
During a heated exchange at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) proposed assault weapons ban on Wednesday, Edward Flynn pointedly interrupted Graham’s claims that the federal government is failing to deter individuals from misrepresenting themselves in the background check process by failing to prosecute people who were rejected from purchasing a weapon as a result of their false claims.
Flynn argued that rather than embark on a “paper chase,” law enforcement officials are focused on preventing people from purchasing guns illegally, eliciting loud applause from the audience:
GRAHAM: When almost 80,000 people fail a background check and 44 people are prosecuted, what kind of deterrent is that? I mean, the law obviously is not seeing that as important…. We absolutely do nothing to enforce the laws on the books…
FLYNN: Just for the record, from my point of view, the point of a background check…
GRAHAM: How many cases have you made? How many cases have you made?
FLYNN: It doesn’t matter, it’s a paper thing. I want to stop 76,000 people from getting guns illegally. That’s what a background check does. If you think we’re going to do paperwork prosecutions, you’re wrong. [...] We don’t make those cases. We have priorities. We make gun cases. We make 2,000 gun cases a year, senator, that’s our priority. We’re not in a paper chase. We’re trying to prevent the wrong people from buying guns. That’s why we do background checks. If you think I’m going to do a paper chase, then you think I’m going to misuse my resources.
In a separate exchange with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), John Walsh, the United States Attorney for Colorado argued that background checks are designed to deter criminals from purchasing weapons, noting that individuals who fail a check are effectively prevented from buying firearms. He added that “there’s no way the Department of Justice could have prosecuted all 1.5 million people who were rejected over that 15 year period.”
Indeed, the “low number of prosecutions in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available, is consistent with other years” and is often seen as a poor use of resources. Prosecutors must prove that “the person knew they were lying when they tried to purchase the firearm” in order to secure a conviction which “usually carries a maximum sentence of just six months.”
Graham said that limited resources for police departments is a reason to bolster gun ownership, arguing that citizens would have to take the law in their own hands and protect themselves. “What this police chief is facing, is what every police chief is facing, less money so you may have to defend yourself,” he explained.