Oppose All Mandatory Minimum Amendments to Any Proposed Gun Safety Legislation

Media 03.7.12

Recipient: U.S. Senate

Dear Senator:

On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 210 national organizations to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States, we write to urge you to vote against any amendments that would add mandatory minimum sentences to S. 54, S. 150, S. 374, and S. 146, the gun safety bills to be marked up by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Leadership Conference is particularly concerned about two identical amendments being offered by Senator Chuck Grassley, R. Iowa, one to amend S. 150, the assault weapons ban and the other to amend S. 374, which would require background checks of gun purchasers. These amendments would create a new, one-year mandatory minimum sentence for those who violate 18 U.S.C § 924(a) (1) (A), a provision of current law that makes it a crime to knowingly make false statements or representations when applying for a license to manufacture, distribute, import, collect, or sell weapons or ammunition or when seeking to be relieved of disabilities that prohibit possessing, shipping, transporting, or receiving firearms or ammunition.[1]

The Leadership Conference believes that adding mandatory minimum penalties is unnecessary; as current sentencing guidelines under this provision are sufficiently meeting the purposes of punishment.[2] Under current law violators of § 924(a) (1) (A) can face up to five years in federal prison, without parole. Even with absolutely no criminal history, a person convicted under this provision faces a guideline range of 15–21 months imprisonment, which is higher than the one-year mandatory minimum proposed by the amendments.[3] There have been no hearings or other review of sentences in this area, to suggest that the current sentencing guidelines are inappropriate or failing to achieve the purposes of punishment.  

Furthermore, including these mandatory minimum sentencing provisions in the proposed legislation would be inappropriate, and not cost effective. Mandatory minimum sentencing schemes are especially problematic because they eliminate judicial discretion and prevent courts from considering all relevant factors, such as culpability and role in the offense, and tailoring the punishment to the crime and offender. Further, studies have shown that mandatory minimum sentences not only exacerbate racial disparities in the criminal justice system, but also that they are ineffective as public safety mechanisms, as they increase the likelihood of recidivism.[4] Further, a recent report by the Congressional Research Service reveals that mandatory minimum prison terms are a principal driver of high prison populations and rising costs—an extraordinary burden to taxpayers.[5]

For these reasons, as the Senate marks up S. 54, S. 150, S. 347 and S. 146, we urge you to oppose the adoption of any amendments that would impose mandatory minimum sentences. We thank you for your leadership on this important issue and for consideration of our position. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Sakira Cook at 202-263-2894 or [email protected].


Wade Henderson
President & CEO

Nancy Zirkin
Executive Vice President

[1] See 18 U.S.C. § 924(a) (1) (A).

[2]  In FY2010, there were 281 people sentenced under 18 U.S.C. § 924(a), which includes numerous offenses other than 18 U.S.C. § 924(a) (1) (A). (Data for § 924(a) (1) (A) offenses is not broken out separately.) Nonetheless, of all those sentenced under 18 U.S.C. § 924(a), 204 received prison-only sentences, and the average sentence was 52 months – far longer than the one-year mandatory minimum sentence proposed. Only 51 offenders received probation-only sentences.

[3] See USSG § 2K2.1.

[4] Barbara S. Vincent and Paul J. Hofer, “The Consequences of Mandatory Minimum Prison Terms: A Summary of Recent Findings,” (Federal Judicial Center, 1994), available at http://www.fjc.gov/public/pdf.nsf/lookup/conmanmin.pdf/$file/conmanmin.pdf

[5]Congressional Research Service, The Federal Prison Population Buildup: Overview, Policy Changes, Issues, and Options (Jan. 22, 2013), available at http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42937.pdf