When I turned on MSNBC this morning I heard one of those short, snappy headline blurbs which seems to be consuming the media at the moment. A record has been set, but it has nothing to do with the Olympics. Barack Obama issued 214 sentence commutations in a single day for “mostly non-violent offenders.” Or, as CNN described it, “for drug offenders.” It’s red letter day for criminal justice reform because that’s the most commutations issued in a single day since at least 1900.
That’s some great news, isn’t it? It’s true that the war on drugs has produced some uneven results, with offenders receiving wildly different jail terms in some cases. Clearly there is progress to be made on that front. The rest of the media coverage was largely celebratory in a similar fashion. (NOLA)
President Barack Obama granted clemency to a record 214 inmates on Wednesday, far surpassing his previous single-day record, as part of an ongoing effort to release federal inmates serving prison terms deemed to be unduly harsh.
To date, Obama has commuted the sentences of 562 federal inmates, more than the previous nine presidents combined. The White House said in a statement that the president will continue commuting the sentences of inmates through his remaining months in office.
In the midst of all the celebrations, however, you might notice something startling when you look over the full list of convicts who will be receiving early walking papers. As our colleagues at Twitchy were quick to point out, nearly one quarter of the prisoners weren’t just in the slammer for unduly harsh sentences on drug offenses. And the administration seems to be stretching the definition of “non-violent” to the breaking point.
Take a moment to dry your eyes and note that almost all of the prisoners whose sentences were commuted were jailed for nonviolent drug crimes. Of course, a handful were found guilty of using or carrying a firearm during a drug trafficking crime, possession of stolen firearm, or being a felon in possession of a firearm.
What’s a handful? A quick review of the list of Wednesday’s commutations shows more than 50 prisoners convicted of firearms violations. But isn’t that society’s fault for flooding communities with so many guns that it’s easier for a teenager to buy (or steal) a Glock than to get his hands on a book or a computer?
Basically one in four of the commuted sentences were for gun charges. First of all, when you’re packing heat as part of your drug dealing business you’re not exactly projecting the image of the non-violent criminal, but that’s hardly the point here. We’re being lectured on a daily basis by Barack Obama and his Democratic allies about the need to shut down the flow of weapons, end gun violence and every other catch phrase you can imagine which involves limiting the Second Amendment rights of law abiding gun owners. We are also assured of the need to curb the power of “the gun lobby.” In response, conservatives regularly point out that we might want to enforce the gun laws we already have on the books first and deal with the actual criminals who are trafficking in illegal guns. (Which are used in the vast majority of gun crimes in this country.)
How are we to take these charges from the Democrats seriously when they refuse to deal with the actual gun problem we have while insisting on hounding the law abiding? If you’re really worried about the number of deaths due to gun violence in this country (rather than simply yapping about it to gain a few points in the polls) how about we show that we’ll treat illegal gun ownership, trafficking and use in a serious fashion? Releasing prisoners convicted of gun crimes early sends precisely the wrong message and demonstrates that all your talk about gun show loopholes and all the rest is nothing more than political window dressing. Yes, we have a problem in this country, but it’s not a gun problem. It’s a criminal problem. When you start trying to enforce the laws we have on the books and cut down on gun crime, perhaps I’ll begin treating your other gun control requests a bit more seriously.