Despite government shutdowns in response to COVID-19 and other challenges posed by the pandemic, fiscal year 2020 ATF enforcement numbers for federal gun control were near or at their highest levels in history.
During a public appearance in 2019, President Donald Trump proudly reminded us about his gun control credentials, bragging that his administration implemented new gun control and has conducted more enforcement actions than anyone in history.
The president didn’t back off his commitment to enforcing gun laws in fiscal 2020, even with the pandemic. And throughout his entire term, the Trump administration was far more aggressive in enforcing federal gun laws than someone more known for his “gun grabber” credentials, Barack Obama.
Indictments and prosecutions were down in 2020 likely caused by backups in the court system due to government shutdowns. Nevertheless, Trump’s ATF initiated the highest number of firearms investigations of any of his four years in office in 2020 – 39,449. That compares to 35,790 cases investigated the prior year – a 10 percent increase despite the pandemic.
This is also far higher than the Obama years. In 2016, the final year of the Obama administration, the ATF investigated 31,853 firearms cases. In 2014, the ATF initiated just 23,462 firearms investigations. (See Footnote 1)
Cases Recommended for Prosecution
The number of cases recommended for prosecution fell to 8,025 in 2020. Again, this was most likely due to courts closing down due to the pandemic. That’s the only logical explanation for a 10 percent increase in investigations coupled with a big drop in prosecutions. This compares with 11,319 recommended for prosecution in 2019. This was still on par with Obama’s final year in office.
- 2020 – 8,025
- 2019 – 11,319
- 2018 – 10,691
- 2017 – 9,591
- 2016 – 8,805
- 2015 – 7,516
- 2014 – 7,577
Given the number of cases recommended for prosecution dropped, it’s no surprise that the number of cases leading to indictment also fell last year. The ATF got indictments in 6,934 cases last year compared to 8,360 in 2019. This was slightly higher than Obama’s last year in office. In all, the feds indicted 10,077 defendants in 2020.
- 2020 – 6,934
- 2019 – 8,360
- 2018 – 7,630
- 2017 – 7,137
- 2016 – 6,357
- 2015 – 5,503
- 2014 – 5,310
The feds got convictions in 5,181 cases. Again, this was down sharply from earlier in the Trump administration, but on par with the highest level in the Obama years. In total, federal prosecutors convicted 7,204 defendants in cases brought by the ATF.
- 2020 – 5,181
- 2019 – 6,887
- 2018 – 5,485
- 2017 – 6,068
- 2016 – 5,517
- 2015 – 4,031
- 2014 – 4,482
The ATF also investigates arson, cases involving explosives, and alcohol and tobacco cases, but these make up a small percentage of the total. Under Trump, 92 percent of the cases investigated by the ATF have involved firearms. It was slightly less under Obama – 90 percent.
ATF enforcement of federal gun laws under Trump in year one increased at roughly the same trajectory as it did during the last three years of Obama’s second term and it has continued at roughly the same pace until the pandemic slowed things down. Even with the pandemic, the number of cases investigated continued to increase. In other words, the NRA-backed, GOP protector of the Second Amendment has been no better than the Democratic Party gun-grabber. In fact, he’s been more aggressive in enforcing federal gun laws.
And Trump did something even Obama didn’t do. He instituted new federal gun control with the implementation of a “bump-stock” ban. He has also suggested imposing a similar ban on firearm “silencers,” although that never came to pass.
Some might argue it would have been worse if Hillary Clinton had won. Perhaps. But if you support the Second Amendment, don’t you find it problematic that the president who’s supposed to be the good guy continues to ratchet up enforcement of existing unconstitutional federal laws?
A true supporter of the right to keep and bear arms would do better.
And make no mistake; all federal gun control laws are unconstitutional.
Even among the strongest supporters of “gun rights,” most hold the view that the Second Amendment allows for “reasonable” federal regulation of firearms. But as originally understood, the Second Amendment includes no such exceptions. Constitutionally speaking, the federal government should not regulate the manufacture or private ownership of firearms.
There wasn’t an asterisk after “shall not be infringed.” No terms and conditions apply.
The bottom line is we can’t trust Republicans in Washington D.C. to uphold the Second Amendment. Unfortunately, it appears we have the same problem with Republicans in state legislatures as well.
When Barack Obama was president, Republicans in state legislatures introduced dozens of bills to nullify federal gun control by refusing to help with federal enforcement. After Trump won the White House, those efforts virtually stopped, even though not one single federal gun control law was repealed.
During the last two years of the Obama administration, there were more than 50 bills directly pushing back against federal gun control introduced in 22 states. During the four state legislative sessions since the Trump administration took over, the number of bills dropped by more than half and the number of states nearly did too.
Not only that, the bills that were filed after Trump took office didn’t go anywhere. Governors signed five bills into law directly taking on federal gun control during the last two Obama years. During Trump’s four years – zero.
Sure enough, as soon as Biden won the White House, Republicans went back to work. Second Amendment Preservation Acts were passed in both Missouri and Arizona. Unfortunately, most of the “sanctuary” bills passed didn’t do anything in effect. Even Republican efforts to stop Biden gun control are mostly political posturing.
If you didn’t know better, you’d think there weren’t any threats to the right to keep and bear arms when Republicans control D.C. And yet the federal gun control acts of 1934, 1968 and 1986, along with other various laws violating the Second Amendment, remain on the books no matter which party controls the White House. And they’re still enforced by the feds just as aggressively.
By and large, Republicans use the Second Amendment as a campaign prop, but they do very little to actually stop the federal government from infringing on your right to keep and bear arms. They barely hold the line on new gun control and they don’t do anything to challenge the unconstitutional laws already on the books.
At the end of the day, President Trump ended his term the same way he started – out-enforcing President Barack Obama when it comes to unconstitutional federal gun control.
All enforcement statistics were taken from the following ATF Fact Sheets