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170 U. Pa. L. Rev. 637 (2021-2022)
The Trajectory of Federal Gun Crimes

handle is hein.journals/pnlr170 and id is 649 raw text is: ARTICLE

Federal gun prosecutions have been a significant part of the federal
docket for decades. In this Article, we explore for the first time the evolution
of federal gun crimes. They cover conduct ranging from gun distribution and
possession of particular weapons such as machine guns to use by drug
traffickers and individual possession of firearms by felons. Second, we
describe how in practice gun charges have adapted to criminal law priorities
of Congress and federal prosecutors over time. More recently, they became
prominent in connection with immigration prosecutions, while in the 1980s,
drug gangs were the priority. During this time, gun cases provided vehicles
for testing the reach of federal jurisdiction, the use of federal crimes as
sentencing enhancements, and the boundaries between federal, state, and
local enforcement.
We argue federal gun crimes reflect a unique dynamic in which
legislation is shaped by three forces: (1) aggressive interest group lobbying
that leads to compromise on harsh punishment; (2) a dichotomizing of gun
users into either law-abiding citizens or thugs and gangsters; and (3)
prosecutorial power that is magnified in this area due to the ubiquity of
firearms in communities and in criminal activity in the United States, which
both permits broad federal jurisdiction and allows prosecutors to use their
equally broad discretion to leverage severe sentences to obtain plea bargains.
Our overall goal is to illuminate the central, but inconsistent and complex,
place of gun crimes in federal criminal law. We conclude by asking what
principles could guide the development of this body of law through judicial
interpretation, future legislation, and in enforcement, towards a new vision
in which federal law is designed to reduce disparities in enforcement and to
prevent gun violence.


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