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

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The centerpiece of President Bush's crimefightingprogram is an initiative called ProjectSafe Neighborhoods. That initiative calls for thehiring of some 700 lawyers who will be dedicatedto prosecuting firearm offenses, such as theunlawful possession of a gun by a drug user or aconvicted felon. The basic idea is to divertfirearm offenses from state court, where theywould ordinarily be prosecuted, to federal court,where tougher prison sentences will be metedout. Project Safe Neighborhoods will also providefunding to escalate gun prosecutions at thestate level.

Praise for Project Safe Neighborhoods comesfrom quarters as diverse as Handgun Control,Inc. and the National Rifle Association.Unfortunately, those disparate parties have unitedin support of a singularly bad idea. ProjectSafe Neighborhoods is an affront to the constitutionalprinciple of federalism. The initiativeflouts the Tenth Amendment by relying on federalstatutes that have no genuine constitutionalbasis. Moreover, the program will very likely leadto overenforcement of gun laws and open thedoor to prosecutorial mischief affecting theracial composition of juries. As the constitutionaland policy implications of Project SafeNeighborhoods become more apparent, theBush initiative looks less like a commonsensesolution to crime and more like a political gimmickwith pernicious unintended consequences.If the "respect for federalism" he has repeatedlyprofessed is sincere, President Bush must reconsiderhis support for Project Safe Neighborhoods.

Gene Healy

Gene Healy is an attorney and senior editor at the Cato Institute.