Given the flurry of news coverage surrounding the Trump campaign (and, to a much lesser degree, the scandals engulfing Hillary Clinton’s parallel effort) this would be a great month for the White House to take care of some unfinished business without the press paying too much attention to it. Clearly Barack Obama caught on to this idea long before I noticed it and he’s been busy with some housekeeping work of his own. One item on the agenda was to continue issuing pardons or commutations to prisoners. That activity moved forward at a brisk pace this week with another 111 prisoners having their sentences shortened. John wrote about this story when it first broke and provided a good background on the general trend toward sentence reduction, but there’s another aspect of it which we should look at. Despite the administration’s claims that they wanted to focus on non-violent drug crimes, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action took note of the fact that 22% of these prisoners were actually locked up on gun charges.
But Obama is nothing if not hypocritical. Not only has he increased the scope of his pardons and commutations, but – according to an article in USA Today – he has shifted his strategy to reach more serious and violent offenders. “Before last month, 13% of inmates receiving clemency had used a firearm in the offense,” the article states. “For those granted presidential mercy last month, it was 22%.”
In other words, nearly one in four prisoners who will gain early release by presidential decree used a firearm to commit the offense for which the person was imprisoned.
Critics of Obama’s executive clemency program charge that he is not merely seeking to correct extraordinary injustices or reward exemplary rehabilitation on a case-by-case basis. Rather, they say, he is “instead substituting his own judgment for that of Congress and the courts” by applying the more lenient sentencing guidelines of modern times for the stricter one in effect during the 1980s and ‘90s, at the height of the crack epidemic.
The USA Today article referenced above actually attempts to focus on the “disappointing” aspects of Barack Obama’s recent commutations. Rather than granting certain prisoners what’s known as a “time served” commutation leading to their immediate release, he’s simply shortened the sentences for many of them. This leaves them with a few years (or in some cases more than a decade) left to spend behind bars. Conveniently, this puts them out on the streets long after he’s left office.
But still, the article does highlight some of the people who received these generous shortened sentences. One of them is Alfonso Allen who is listed by USA Today as being, “a lieutenant in a Miami drug trafficking ring that ran a crack cocaine operation.” That much is true, but it doesn’t really tell the whole story. When the Orlando Sun-Sentinel reviewed the case, they described Alfonso’s body of work with a few more details. (Emphasis added)
Alfonso Allen, of Miami, has been serving a life sentence since 2009 for several charges, including conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and possession of an unregistered short-barreled shotgun. His sentence was commuted to a term of 30 years.
Mr. Allen is only one of the nearly two dozen convicts in this batch who were not sitting in jail for simple drug crimes. He’s a career criminal who authorities cited as being highly placed in a gang and he was packing illegal weapons. If President Obama wants to continue a discussion of reforming sentencing guidelines for individuals convicted of simple drug possession charges, I’m all in favor of that. But at the same time, he’s gone out of his way to insist that it really isn’t the drugs which are the problem… it’s the guns. Right? That’s why he’s been pushing for more and more gun control laws.
The NRA-ILA brings this story to light for an excellent reason. As gun rights advocate around the nation have been asking for years, before we go passing another raft of gun control laws, why can’t the administration explain why we’re not enforcing the laws we already have on the books? If you want to get tough on gun crimes, isn’t pardoning or commuting the sentences of violent offenders who are flaunting existing gun laws precisely the wrong message to send? This hypocrisy is at the heart of why the Democrats receive so much stiff opposition every time they want to have a “national conversation” on gun violence. It’s hard to take them seriously when they won’t even work to bring the hammer down on the people who represent the actual gun problem in this country, and we’re not talking about law abiding, legal gun owners.