Firearms offenders recidivate at higher rates, and progressive prosecutors don’t care

A new article by Thomas Hogan of the Manhattan Institute discusses some of the recent data on crime trends presented by the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC). One important point brought up in that piece concerns the recidivism of federal firearms offenders. Federal firearms offenders are usually convicted of being felons-in-possession of firearms, or they are convicted of carrying a firearm related to another crime such as drug trafficking or robbery. Per the USSC’s 2021 annual report, firearms offenders recidivate at a higher rate than all other offenders, with almost 70 percent being re-arrested within eight years of release. A complementary USSC report discusses these findings in more detail, noting that recidivism rates for firearms offender were consistently higher than non-firearms offenders regardless of age and criminal history.

The Sentencing Commission is an independent judicial agency created by the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, whose main job is to write (and amend) the guidelines that guide judges’ sentencing decisions for federal crimes. The USSC also conducts research, aggregates data, and regularly disseminates information on federal sentences and offenders. Their reports provide valuable information about drugs, firearms, and recidivism that help explain current crime trends. When it comes to recidivism, the USSC studies have shown some interesting findings, particularly for violent offenders and those who use firearms to commit crimes.

In layperson terms, violent offenders, and particularly those who carry guns, are extremely dangerous and also more likely to recidivate after prison than other offenders. This finding remains consistent regardless of one’s age and criminal history, and shows that use of a firearm is a strong predictor of recidivism. Unfortunately though, progressive prosecutors like to ignore these facts. For example, Philadelphia’s Larry Krasner argues that arresting people who illegally carry guns is “ineffective” in reducing gun crime, as well as “unjust and racially discriminatory.” This is frustrating, and yet another example of how politicians like to promote policies based on emotions rather than facts.

Admittedly, we know that recidivism rates vary based on many factors. Generally speaking, people with more serious  criminal histories, those committing more violent offenses, and those who are younger at time of release tend to have higher rates of recidivism. But the USSC report that examined firearms offenders specifically found that a criminal’s use of a firearm is a stronger predictor of recidivism than both criminal history and age. Thus, it seems pretty clear that firearms offenders pose greater threats to public safety with a greater propensity to re-offend than other offenders.

The key policy implication is that use of a firearm is a strong predictor of recidivism — stronger than the impact of criminal history and age. These findings justify the need for sentence enhancements for firearms offenders, as they are truly more dangerous and more likely to recidivate. Surely, future research is needed to understand if other factors might explain the difference between firearms and other types of offenders, such as participation in prison rehabilitation programs.