The case for gun control is usually made on the basis of reducing violent crime, whether from committing mass shootings or smaller scale murders and robberies. But the people actually charged under gun control laws are rarely the violent criminals -- after all, if you have charged a man for murdering almost thirty people, an additional charge of doing it with a weapon he wasn't allowed to have is rather pointless. You can only fry him once, after all.
The people who actually get charged with violating gun control laws are different. They are, to put it bluntly, honest citizens who made a simple mistake navigating a complex combination of federal, state and local laws, many of which are explicitly designed to make gun ownership complex and legally dangerous in order to discourage it.
A couple recent cases should illustrate the point.
The Supreme Court is hearing an appeal from Abramski, a former police officer who bought a gun through a licensed dealer and passed his background check. He is being prosecuted because he bought the gun for his uncle, who is legally allowed to possess the gun and could have bought it himself. But because they agreed to have Abramski buy the gun using a discount, and Abramski then sold the gun to his uncle who lived in another state. The BATFE is arguing that checking a box indicating that the gun you are buying is for you rather than someone else is enough to earn you a federal prison sentence even if everyone involved could legally purchase the gun on their own.
In the nation's capital, Witaschek is being tried for firearms violations. He owns many guns legally, storing them outside of the city with a family member and hunting with them. He is a responsible gun owner, but he also found himself getting a divorce -- and his wife, presumably wanting to get him in trouble for revenge of some kind, called the police and told them he had guns in his house within the District of Columbia. The police raided his house with their SWAT team twice -- the first time without a warrant. They trashed his house in the process of "searching" it for firearms that were not there. Eventually, they found a single shotgun shell -- a dud, one that had malfunctioned and would not fire. In DC, possession of ammunition for an unregistered gun carries the same penalty that possessing the actual gun does. Witaschek is on trial and will face felony gun charges. If he is convicted, he will lose his gun rights permanently. All because he had a dud shotgun shell and an angry wife.
Of course, if you are a media personality like David Gregory, you can wave around a 30-round magazine -- also treated like a machine gun under DC law -- in your media studio and the government will decline to prosecute.
The agency responsible for enforcing gun control laws is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. That agency has been in the headlines for the past few years over an operation called Fast and Furious, which arranged for guns to be purchased in the United States by straw buyers and smuggled into Mexico, where they were provided to the Sinaloa drug cartels. That's not all they have been up to, though. In addition to the ongoing investigations into Fast and Furious, a whole new set of investigations into the agency's sting operations have been opened up. In the meantime, the "straw purchases" the agency demands new laws to prevent are prosecuted under existing law at a rate of one prosecution per one thousand violations.