by Bob Barr
President Joe Biden left the safe confines of the Oval Office last week to visit New York City, which is suffering under a massive rise in major crimes — two young police officers were murdered there just days before.
Rather than use the visit to highlight real, workable solutions to rising crime rates in New York and other major American cities, the president spent the day calling for – no surprise here, folks – more gun control.
While in the Big Apple, Biden called for more taxpayer dollars and new bureaucracies to curb the one factor he apparently considers to be at the root of rising violent crime rates everywhere – too many guns. He asked the Congress to pass legislation establishing, among other liberal shibboleths, “universal background checks” and a ban on “assault weapons and high capacity magazines.”
Not once in his remarks did the president ask New York to do the one thing that has proven in the past to curb gun crimes – aggressive use of existing federal laws.
For example, were Biden interested in true, bipartisan solutions rather than simply playing to the liberal gun-control wing of his party, he could have announced a reaffirmation of “Project Exile,” a program first implemented in 1997 by a Republican Virginia Governor, George Allen, and the U.S. Department of Justice under a Democratic President, Bill Clinton.
Project Exile, which actually remains in operation in a limited number of cities even today, began as a highly-publicized initiative in early 1997 in Richmond, Virginia, which was experiencing a significant surge in firearms crimes. In response, federal and state prosecutors announced that serious firearms offenses in the city would be prosecuted not by local district attorneys, but by federal prosecutors using existing federal gun laws to “exile” those found guilty to federal prison under mandatory minimum sentences not available under state law. The project saw major success in reducing Richmond’s violent crime wave and was replicated in other cities (as of late 2019 the program still was in use in Rochester, New York, for example).
Instead of highlighting workable, cooperative programs such as Project Exile, Biden spent his time at the presidential bully pulpit calling for more gun control. Even in this regard, however, Biden exhibited the tone deafness that has become a hallmark of his first year in office; in this instance, calling for Congress to pass legislation mandating “universal background checks” for all gun sales but failing to connect the dots in his own speech. If he had done so, he would have realized that the criminal who just recently murdered two NYPD officers did so with a stolen handgun, which would not have been prevented by any “universal background check” system.
Money, of course, figured prominently in his speech. $300 million for “community policing,” another $200 million for “community violence intervention programs” (whatever those are), a bigger budget for ATF, a new “initiative” (read, “bureaucracy”) to go after “ghost guns” and the list went on.
Biden also announced the obvious – that ATF will “shut down rogue gun dealers,” which, if the president means taking steps to put firearms retailers out of business if they violate federal laws regulating gun sales, ATF has always had the authority to do.
Nonsensical statements were the bookends to Biden’s speech. First, he called the Glock handgun that was used to murder the two NYPD officers a “weapon of war.” No commercially available handgun, even with an extended capacity magazine, is reasonably considered to be a “weapon of war,” but using the term fits the narrative if not the facts.
Then, towards the end of his remarks, the president angrily declared that the Second Amendment “is not absolute,” as if he had just discovered a brand new constitutional principle.
The fact is that no court of record, including the United States Supreme Court, has ever held that absolutely no constraints could ever be placed on the exercise of the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the “right to keep and bear arms.”
Stating that the “Second Amendment is not absolute,” however, has become the latest liberal catchphrase to justify significant and almost always unconstitutional limitations on the exercise of this fundamental right. Beware of the phrase; we are going to hear it repeated frequently over the next three years.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.