Watching Congressional Republicans bemoan President Obama’s executive actions on gun control reminds me of the Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore movie “50 First Dates.” The Sandler, Barrymore comedy is based on the premise that a woman suffers from a malady which causes her to forget everything that transpired for most of her life every time she goes to sleep at night. When she wakes up the next day, she has to start over from scratch. Sandler meets Barrymore and falls for her and hilarity ensues.
The only question is whether Congressional Republicans think that the public has fallen prey to Barrymore’s ailment or are they unknowing sufferers?
As Republicans posture en masse claiming that they are going to use the power of the purse to rein in Obama one month after giving him a virtual blank check for most of the remainder of his time in office through the omnibus spending bill, they either think the collective memory is so dim or the eggnog so thick that few will remember their recent catastrophic failure.
What is worse however, is that while they are talking about President Obama enforcing the laws against criminal misuse of firearms that are on the books, Congressional Republicans are moving forward with plans to pass legislation reducing sentencing guidelines for those caught possessing a gun while committing a drug offense.
That’s right. At a time when Baltimore broke its annual homicide record and Chicago has returned to the days of Capone with eleven murders in the first week of the new year, a bi-partisan supported criminal justice reform measure would put a Republican rubber stamp on the release of thousands of major drug dealers back onto the streets from which they were forcibly removed.
What could go wrong?
On top of this Republican proposed release program, President Obama is drastically increasing Justice Department staff to handle the expected massive increase in pardons and clemency that the President is expected to issue beyond the 40,000 plus convicts he began releasing starting in Oct. 2015.
And into this mix, Congress is trying to pass legislation, which the President will sign, that retroactively cuts mandatory sentences of those still serving time in the federal penitentiary.
This might make sense if federal prisons were overrun with people who were caught up, arrested and convicted of simple possession of drugs charges. But that is not the case, in fact, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission as of the end of 2014, only 15 U.S. citizens were serving in federal prison for “simple possession,” and most were likely plead down from more serious charges.
The federal mandatory minimums are reserved for high-level traffickers. To earn a 10-year mandatory minimum, a person must possess at least one kilogram of heroin, the equivalent of 10,000 individual fixes and countless lives destroyed. Possession of five kilos of cocaine will get you the same 10-year mandatory minimum with a street value of almost $150,000. If you possess a ton of marijuana, you are 204 pounds short of what is needed to qualify for the 10-year mandatory.
People in federal prison under the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for drug possession are not the kid in high school who sells his buddy a joint. Republicans would be releasing, on a bi-partisan basis as if that absolves them of culpability, the kingpin who is running a distribution network that is claiming the lives of hundreds if not thousands of people who fall into the snare of drug addiction.
Anyone who with a lick of sense and is paying attention would consider it lunacy to flood the streets of America with high-level drug dealers, many of whom are guaranteed to want to reclaim their place in the drug distribution system.
Dealing illegal drugs is a dangerous business. Gangs fight over neighborhoods and street corners and murder is the inevitable outcome. Passage of the proposed criminal justice early release bill in Congress will result in even higher homicide rates.
How do I know? A 2014 Bureau of Justice Statistics study tracked 404,638 state prisoners from 30 states released in 2005, 76.9 percent of drug offenders were re-arrested within 5 years (78 percent of possession offenders and 75 percent of trafficking offenders), with 25 percent of the recidivating offenses (for which they were arrested) being violent crimes. That’s a minimum of 100,000 more violent crimes.
Does this mean that our nation should lock them up and throw away the key?
No, but it does mean that Congress would be foolish to proceed with retroactively lowering the sentences of those already in prison for high-level drug trafficking or having a gun in their possession while they were engaged in the crime.
It means that before swinging the prison doors wide, Congress needs to consider that President Obama’s response to Ferguson and elsewhere has created a climate where police are unable to safely do the same job they did a few years ago. What’s more this creates the added problem that the law-abiding in the community are less likely to cooperate with the police out of fear of retaliation for collaborating with the enemy.
It is the wrong time for Congress to proceed with its dangerous and ill-advised criminal justice reform plan. This is one bi-partisan bill that Congressional Republicans should just say no to.
When a pre-released violent offender inevitably murders someone, the American public will not be suffering from daily amnesia like in the Sandler, Barrymore movie. And if they did, political consultants would be putting the thirty second Willie Horton-style ad assigning culpability on a continual loop to remind them.
Rick Manning is the President of Americans for Limited Government.