September 25, 2023
Does this look like a message leaders in “Shall not be infringed” would promote? (Project Exile – Rochester, NY/Facebook)

“Try Enforcement Before ‘Reform,’” Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership declares in an email alert for an article hosted on its website. A byline and article source link show JPFO reposted an article by the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action Executive Director Randy Kozuch, a career state lobbyist and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre loyalist.

“The truth is, no one even knows how the gun laws currently on the books might perform because these laws are so lightly enforced,” Kozuch declares. “Consider the cornerstone of the U.S. federal gun law regime: the Gun Control Act of 1968 and its prohibition on firearm possession by … convicted felons, fugitives from justice, illegal aliens, those who have been formally committed to a mental institution and others from possessing guns.”

“The longstanding indifference toward enforcing existing gun laws goes straight to the top,” Kozuch complains. “Part of the problem with lack of enforcement is that we have some evidence from the rare instances where existing law is vigorously enforced, by targeting those who actually misuse firearms, can have a significant impact on violent crime.”

And with that, Kozuch segues into predictable (by longtime NRA watchers) advocacy for Project Exile, a federal program initiated in 1997 by the Richmond, Va., U.S. Attorney’s Office to “federally prosecute every instance of certain types of gun crimes, including ‘felons with guns.’”

“Because of the demonstrated results in just one year of sustained effort, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to continuing Project Exile indefinitely,” Kozuch quotes a 1998 USAO report.

Success, right? It depends on who’s doing the measuring. And how long it lasts.

“In Richmond, Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he will expand Project Exile nationwide,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported in 2017.  “Project Exile is a widely copied program credited with cutting Richmond’s violent crime 20 years ago by shipping firearm violators to far-off federal prisons. When [FBI Director] Comey was appointed director of the FBI, Exile was frequently cited as one of his accomplishments.”

Except it wasn’t as big of an accomplishment as he (and NRA) cracked it up to be, but it does go hand-in-fisted-glove with LaPierre’s longstanding position:

“Let’s agree on this: Every American city, let’s put Project Exile, every time a violent felon, drug dealer, gang member touches a gun, let’s prosecute.”

At the time, then-NRA president Charlton Heston was telling “criminals” to “Make my day” as he joined with anti-gun then-Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell to implement the program there, even though the numbers hardly substantiated the grandiose promises:

“In the final hours of 2004, Richmond topped its 2003 murder rate by one, securing its distinction as one of the nation’s most dangerous cities. The city’s final homicide of the year — called in to police around 8 p.m. New Year’s Eve was number 95, surpassing the previous year’s 94. In 2002, there were 83 and in 2001, 69.

“Murders in the United States dropped by nearly 6 percent in the first half of 2004 after rising for four straight years, the FBI reported. Numbers from the second half of 2004 have not been compiled.

“Richmond had the country’s fourth highest murder rate in 2003 and was ranked the nation’s ninth most dangerous city overall in 2004, beating out Miami and Compton, Calif. Richmond is the sixth most dangerous when compared to other cities with populations of 100,000 to 499,999.”

And while there was “a steep decline” reported in 2011, a 2016 report noted, “Richmond ranks high among ‘murder capitals’ in the U.S.,” and doubts about Exile were raised by the surge.

Since when is “effectiveness” a measure of Constitutionality? Where is the enumerated delegated authority to do this? If exceptions can be made for the Second Amendment, why not the others?

The thought strikes that we could also get convictions to skyrocket if we allowed beatings to extract confessions and dispensed with the need for pesky search warrants. The thought also strikes that if they’re known violent felons, why are they out of prison? If proven violent persons are still truly dangerous, the late Robert J. Kukla made a brilliant observation in his 1973 classic Gun Control, equating their release from prison with opening the cage of a man-eating tiger and expecting a different result.

Even without resorting to the demonstrable truism that anyone who can’t be trusted with a gun can’t be trusted without a custodian, there is a variety of ways people who pose no danger to themselves or others are denied the right to keep and bear arms – and often without even the simulacrum of “due process” we see apologists double-talking about on “red flag laws.” That includes gun owners in hopelessly “blue states,” in which all doors for peaceable redress of grievances have been slammed shut by overwhelmingly “anti-gun” legislatures and judges. That means, in addition to serial predators, a principled “I will not comply” activist who refuses to surrender his rights  — or his bump stock, frame, receiver, forced reset trigger, or stabilizing brace — can be caught up in Exile’s net, no matter what Kozuch or LaPierre say about limiting enforcement to the violent subset.

They don’t make the law, they don’t enforce it, and they have no control over those who do. And since when does the government restrain itself when it has a citizen it wants to make a political example of in its sights over a minor rule infraction?

We Condemn ‘Project Exile,’” a coalition of American leaders in the firearms movement wrote over two decades ago.

“We condemn any program that involves enforcing unconstitutional ‘laws,’ even if such ‘laws’ are enforced only against violent criminals,” the Coalition declared in no uncertain terms. “Unconstitutional ‘laws are illegal, harmful to public safety, tyrannical, and are inevitably enforced against ordinary, non-criminal citizens.”

Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America signed on. So did one other leader whose support was especially relevant: Aaron Zelman, Executive Director of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership.

I knew Aaron. I supported his work, and he mine. I remember evenings when he’d call me, and we’d talk on the phone. I know how he would have reacted to this.

JPFO publicizing Project Exile would have Zelman rolling over in his grave.

I don’t know whose idea it was to approve promoting the NRA piece, but it’s clear they need to be educated on founding principles, both the Republic’s and JPFO’s. And if they expect credibility with the types of gun owners who formed the Coalition, they need to acknowledge they understand how they screwed up.

I hope they do and they reflect Aaron’s vision going forward in new efforts they pursue. JPFO is uniquely positioned to be a powerful voice to counter and expose the prohibitionist subversion of the Anti-Defamation League, and one that can do it without being dismissed as antisemites. Zelman didn’t devote his life to parroting NRA; he devoted it to educating America and the world about the reality that citizen disarmament enables genocide.

Enforce existing gun laws” is the last thing rights advocates should call for. Demanding that is no different than Tories calling on King George to enforce existing Intolerable Acts.

The call from liberty-minded individuals and organizations should be “Repeal existing gun laws.”

About David Codrea:

David Codrea is the winner of multiple journalist awards for investigating/defending the RKBA and a long-time gun owner rights advocate who defiantly challenges the folly of citizen disarmament. He blogs at “The War on Guns: Notes from the Resistance,” is a regularly featured contributor to Firearms News, and posts on Twitter: @dcodrea and Facebook.

David Codrea


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