There Goes the Neighborhood: The Bush‐​Ashcroft Plan to “Help” Localities Fight Gun Crime

May 28, 2002 • Policy Analysis No. 440

The centerpiece of President Bush’s crimefighting program is an initiative called Project Safe Neighborhoods. That initiative calls for the hiring of some 700 lawyers who will be dedicated to prosecuting firearm offenses, such as the unlawful possession of a gun by a drug user or a convicted felon. The basic idea is to divert firearm offenses from state court, where they would ordinarily be prosecuted, to federal court, where tougher prison sentences will be meted out. Project Safe Neighborhoods will also provide funding to escalate gun prosecutions at the state level.

Praise for Project Safe Neighborhoods comes from quarters as diverse as Handgun Control, Inc. and the National Rifle Association. Unfortunately, those disparate parties have united in support of a singularly bad idea. Project Safe Neighborhoods is an affront to the constitutional principle of federalism. The initiative flouts the Tenth Amendment by relying on federal statutes that have no genuine constitutional basis. Moreover, the program will very likely lead to overenforcement of gun laws and open the door to prosecutorial mischief affecting the racial composition of juries. As the constitutional and policy implications of Project Safe Neighborhoods become more apparent, the Bush initiative looks less like a commonsense solution to crime and more like a political gimmick with pernicious unintended consequences. If the “respect for federalism” he has repeatedly professed is sincere, President Bush must reconsider his support for Project Safe Neighborhoods.

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