Gun background-check crimes rarely prosecuted - FOX 13 News

Gun background-check crimes rarely prosecuted

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

If you stop and talk with people in Tampa, most everybody has an opinion when it comes to gun control and the role of government.

"It's just such a huge problem, but there has to be something done because we can't ignore it," said Ron Roberts.

"If you have a problem giving out your information when buying a gun, then you shouldn't have a gun," offered Cheryl Massari.

But most people confess they don't really understand the current law.

"It's probably similar to the background checks they do for some jobs, it's probably going to be the same," said Teynsa Savage.

Nationwide background checks were created under the Brady Act in the early 1990's, which later included the implementation of the National Instant Background Check System (NICS).

The law requires licensed gun dealers to check with law enforcement before making a sale, which in this state is the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The goal is to prevent felons -- and people who don't qualify -- from getting their hands on a gun and it's a federal crime if they even try.

But how often is the law enforced?

"Virtually no one is arrested and convicted of attempts to illegally buy a gun in a gun store," stated Gary Kleck, a professor of criminology at Florida State who's done extensive research on gun control laws.

FOX 13 took a look at the numbers across the nation and in the Tampa Bay Area. The most recent figures from the Department of Justice show there were more than 76,142 denials in 2010.

But just 62 cases were referred for prosecution and only 13 resulted in a guilty verdict or plea.

Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, highlighted this issue to fellow lawmakers earlier this year while speaking before the Judiciary Committee. "Gun crime prosecutions are down across the board, including lying on background checks."

Knowingly making a false statement on a background check is a crime that carries a five-year maximum sentence in federal prison.

What are the numbers in the Tampa Bay Area? FOX 13 requested the records from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida, which covers 35 counties, for the last three years. The numbers show there was not even one prosecution.

"It's kind of appalling, but doesn't surprise me," said Kleck.

"The government is serious about putting the law on the books, but the failure to the follow though certainly makes you wonder how serious they really are," offered Professor Joyce Malcolm, who teaches law at George Mason University and has written many books and articles on gun control.

Professors Kleck and Malcolm believe the law should be enforced and say the lack of prosecutions reflect the priorities of law enforcement.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Tampa Bay Area points out they've prosecuted plenty of cases against felons illegally in possession of a gun.

Supporters of the law say it does not necessary have to be enforced to be effective, an argument Professor Kleck doesn't buy.

"It is possible, but the problem with deterrence is you're alluding to something that didn't happen. A guy didn't go into a gun store and try to buy a gun because he thought he'd get caught and is arrested and convicted of a crime."

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