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March 17, 2021

Spotlighting ugly reasons and realities surrounding federal gun sentences

Tana Ganeva has this effective Reason piece giving attention to federal gun sentences.  The full headline highlights its themes:  "743 Years and 3 Months. 117 Years. 51 Years. Why Are These Men's Sentences So Long?  For possessing a gun while committing a crime — even when no one is killed — too many defendants are slammed with sentences decades or even centuries longer than justice demands."  Here are excerpts:

The federal statute 924(c) imposes mandatory minimum sentences in offenses involving a firearm. Federal law requires that the lengthy sentences for possessing a gun while committing a crime be served back-to-back instead of concurrently, even though state laws tend to be much more lax: In Indiana, where [Charles] Scott was caught, robbery is punishable by one to six years in state prison, with a recommended time of three years. Scott's original offense, the robberies, account for a little more than six years of his sentence — the other 45 years were from the 924(c) charges. Scott's draconian sentence is actually lighter than others snagged under the same statute — there are people sentenced to centuries in prison because of 924(c) even if their underlying crimes would have earned them far less time than multiple human life spans.

As of 2016, 14.9 percent of the federal prison population — or 24,905 people — was incarcerated due to a firearm offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty, according to the Federal Sentencing Commission. Criminal justice reform advocates believe the law wrongly conflates gun violence and crimes where the perpetrator carries, or even just owns, a gun.

"Mandatory minimums around firearms are some of the most frustrating cases," says Kevin Ring, the executive director of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a criminal justice reform organization. "In a country with 340 million firearms, the idea that someone is not going to happen to be in possession of a gun if they commit a crime … the law does not distinguish between someone who uses a gun to commit a crime, and someone who happens to be a gun owner. It's a frustrating, stupid law."...

Although Scott and his family hope for federal clemency, his case isn't a neat fit for today's political climate. Democratic lawmakers brand themselves as advocates for gun control, and so don't have a lot to gain from showing mercy to people who break gun laws. Most Republicans still tend to campaign on tough-on-crime platforms that don't leave a lot of room for second chances.

"For Democrats, mandatory minimums for guns can be a plan B for gun control," says Ring. "And for Republicans, for too long, people resisted the idea that people who own guns … some of those people sell drugs. To fend off gun control, they like to hammer people who have a gun when they commit a crime."

March 17, 2021 at 10:16 PM | Permalink


The clear sign of a primitive, uncivilized nation: draconian, absurd, cruel, unusual sentences. A clear violation of the Bill of Rights. The parties perpetrating these atrocities should be disbarred for life and removed from the bench.

Posted by: restless94110 | Mar 18, 2021 12:56:55 AM

I’d gladly trade these man mins for some better gun control. Unfortunately, we’re still a long ways off from the latter. We’re just starting to contemplate baby steps on filibuster reform, so it’s going to be quite a long journey.

Posted by: hardreaders | Mar 18, 2021 9:24:44 AM

To me, the justice, or lack thereof, of a long sentence for carrying a gun depends on whether or not a victim was placed in a position of fearing the gun. For example, if the gun was used in a robbery, I have no problem with a 25-year enhancement to the person's sentence.

Someone who did not have the proper license for a gun should not get a heavy jail sentence simply for having the gun.

To me, a prohibited possessor falls in an intermediate category. Someone whose right to carry a gun has been taken away for cause needs to respect that. But it's not as bad as threatening someone with the gun.

Posted by: William C Jockusch | Mar 18, 2021 12:55:35 PM

During my 8 years in Federal prison I met several men who had ridiculously long Federal sentences because they had been carrying a gun (which was never fired) while committing various crimes. My friend Gary Settle, now 55 years old, was 26 years old in 1993, when he committed a series of 10 armed bank robberies, while addicted to drugs. The Judge gave him 12 years concurrent for the bank robberies, but 165 years of mandatory consecutive time carrying a gun during the robberies, for a total of 177 years. Gary has now served 29 years in prison. He is not a thug, and has become a good man since getting off drugs. He comes from an educated, middle class family. His Mother is a nurse. There is no reason that he should still be in Federal prison; it's a waste of the taxpayers' money. Another man was a computer programmer for the vault and ATM manufacturer Diebold. He programmed a secret subroutine, so that he could go to any ATM, punch in the secret code, and the machine would open and permit him to remove all of the money, which he did a few times. He was not charged with Bank robbery, but with the lesser crime of Bank Larceny. His defense lawyer did not prepare him properly for his PSR interview with a Probation Officer. When the Probation Officer asked him if he had been armed when he took the money from the ATMs (there was no prior evidence or indication that he had been armed), he honestly responded that heh ad carried a pistol with him each time -- this led to him getting mandatory consecutive prison time, totaling about 54 years, instead of the 6 or 7 years he had been expecting. When his sentence was affirmed on direct appeal, he tried to hang himself with a bedsheet at the UNICOR Factory where he worked at FCI-Manchester, Ky. His Supervisor cut him down, so he did not die. By now, he has served about 20 years of that 54 year sentence. Again, it's a waste money to keep him in Federal prison. I could give several more examples, but I think you already get my point.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Mar 22, 2021 12:49:53 PM

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