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Federal Program Aids in Crackdown of Firearms Criminals

Federal Program Aids in Crackdown of Firearms Criminals

Posted - Jan. 9, 2003 at 5:36 p.m.



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News Specialist John Daley reporting A coalition of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies is crediting a relatively new partnership with helping put criminals who break federal gun laws in jail.

Top officials say Project Safe Neighborhoods has resulted in hundreds of indictments. This is the kind of program that has support from both gun rights advocates and gun control advocates.

Project Safe Neighborhoods essentially gives state law enforcement authorities a chance to put criminals convicted of firearms charges in federal prison.

"If you are going to use guns illegally in this state, if you are going to possess guns illegally, there's going to be consequences," says U.S. attorney Paul Warner.

Project Safe Neighborhoods is a federal initiative designed to reduce gun violence. Basically, state and local police can refer a case to the Justice Department if the accused has violated federal gun laws.

Last year, the partnership resulted in 300 indictments returned by grand juries in Utah.

"As they are convicted, (they) will not be taking up state jail space or prison space. They will be going to federal prisons, all of them outside of the state of Utah. They will not be subject to parole as there is no parole in the federal system. And they will be serving an average of four years or longer on each of their cases," Warner says.

Utah's attorney general says the proof of the program's success is in the prison.

"These 300 criminals who once walked our streets and who preyed on our citizens are now, thanks to the federal government and thanks to the federal funding, prosecutions, and this project. They're being housed in prisons at the cost of the federal government," says attorney general Mark Shurtleff.

Marla Kennedy, the executive director of Utah's Gun Violence Prevention Center, applauds the program. But she says Utah needs to close the so-called "gun show loophole."

"It's legal for a convicted felon or anyone else to walk into a gun show and leave with a firearm. It's perfectly legal, if they purchase it from a private collector or non-licensed dealer. They don't have to go through a background check," Kennedy says.

Gun show backers say the problems are overblown. But the pair behind the Columbine High School massacre got their guns at a gun show.

Today we asked the U.S. attorney about the loophole. He says dealing with that debate is up to the politicians.

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