Prosecuting more who lie to buy guns could strain resources

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Trump administration plan to crack down on people who lie to buy guns faces a giant hurdle: It relies on federal agents and prosecutors who are already overwhelmed with other responsibilities.

Prosecutors and officials from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have historically preferred to use their limited resources to deal with violent crimes rather than aggressively pursue people who give false information on background check forms. Lying on the forms is a felony, and prosecutors sometimes struggle to win convictions.

Still, both sides of the gun control debate welcomed the effort, as President Donald Trump faced criticism for backpedaling from his earlier demands for sweeping reforms in favor of the powerful National Rifle Association. By enforcing existing federal law, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ plan allows the Trump administration to show it is taking action on gun crime in the aftermath of the Florida school shootings while avoiding more restrictive approaches that would never win approval from gun-rights groups or congressional Republicans.

Tens of thousands of people are denied guns each year because of problems with their background checks. But a review by the Justice Department’s inspector general found prosecutions for lying during that process are rare. The ATF referred more than 500 so-called lie-andtry cases to federal prosecutors between 2008 and 2015, the review found, but fewer than 32 cases each year were even considered for prosecution.

“We must vigilantly protect the integrity of the background check system through appropriate prosecution of those who attempt to circumvent the law,” Sessions wrote in a memo directing federal prosecutors to bring more cases. It was among several Justice Department initiatives unrolled in response to the shootings in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 people dead.