Friday, October 7, 2016

NRA, Firing Duds on Clemency

In a piece entitled "Obama Releases Armed Drug Traffickers," the NRA says the President's "much-ballyhooed executive clemency program" is "releasing felons who had been convicted of using firearms in drug trafficking crimes."
“Before last month, 13% of inmates receiving clemency had used a firearm in the offense,” the article states. “For those granted presidential mercy last month, it was 22%.” In other words, nearly one in four prisoners who will gain early release by presidential decree used a firearm to commit the offense for which the person was imprisoned.
It is, perhaps, a shocking enough claim, to the uninformed. But that is about as far as all that goes. First, of course, there is no constitutional limitation on the pardon power re violent crimes / gun use. Presidents have pardoned armed robbers, murderers, multiple ax murders, would-be presidential assassins, Mafia gangland executioners, Nazi saboteurs and child molesters.

If Obama were doing ANYTHING in that neighborhood ... we would all know about it.

Second, while the NRA suggests those whose sentences were commuted "used a firearm to commit the offense," even a casual reading of the descriptions published in newspapers all over the nation is a bucket of cold water on the drama.  When you read "carrying or use of a firearm during a drug crime," you know something is up. "Or" ? Likewise, when you read "carrying a firearm" or "felon in possession of a firearm / ammunition," you might be bright enough to know that weapon may - or may not - have been "used" in any meaningful sense of the language. Then there is, "aided and abetted in the possession of a firearm." The street criminal gun slinging imagery (while emotive) simply ignores the expanding scope of federal statutes and the pile-on-then-bargain-away strategy of federal prosecutors.

The NRA takes the President to task for having "increased the scope of his pardons and commutations" by shifting "his strategy to reach more serious and violent offenders" (something any president can do). He is not "merely seeking to correct extraordinary injustices or reward exemplary rehabilitation on a case-by-case basis" (again, something any president can do).  He is using "his own judgment" to reflect "more lenient sentencing guidelines of modern times" (again, something any president can do). A former U.S. pardon attorney - who served under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, some of the darkest hours for the pardon power - says Obama's behavior amounts to "a genuine re-sentencing. It’s unprecedented” (which is entirely wrong).

Finally, the NRA says the President is "even granting early release to inmates considered 'career offenders' and sentenced to life terms" (again, something any president can do). While this may very well have been the conventional wisdom at the time of sentencing, the NRA should simply have the courage to come out and state the premise underlying its commentary: rehabilitation never happens. People never change. Years, sometimes decades of prison records and the opinions of judges, prosecutors, jurors and prison official just don't matter. Once a criminal, always a criminal.

Of course, all of this is smoke and mirrors. The NRA is simply trying to make political hay in an topical space where partisanship, histrionics and dishonesty have carried the day far too long. It's all about picking at the President, Democrats and Hillary Clinton, in order to rile gun owners. The NRA may have millions to spend on lobbying but, when it comes to writing about clemency, it seems to be low in intellectual resources. See full story here.

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