President Obama wants to be every felon’s best friend. Whether locked up at Guantanamo Bay or a federal penitentiary somewhere across the America, every prisoner can hope that he, too, will escape the Big House. Mercy and clemency is the hope of every prisoner, and some deserve it, but not everyone to whom the president shows such mercy is likely to walk straight on the narrow from now on. Americans who live in a gated community or a big house with a platoon of armed guards are at no risk to suffer the consequences. The rest of us are.
Mr. Obama has pardoned, or reduced or commuted the sentences of more than 600 federal prisoners. Of those, 107 were convicted of gun crimes. As our David Sherfinski and Stephen Dinan report, these numbers exceed the combined acts of leniency for every president since John F. Kennedy. The president says his prisoner release comes down to the need for greater fairness in the criminal justice system: “Our focus really has been on people who we think were overcharged and people who we do not believe have a propensity toward violence.”
But it appears to be something personal as well. In July 2015, Mr. Obama visited a federal prison in Oklahoma, and the experience clearly made a deep impression on him. “That’s what strikes me, there but for the grace of God,” he said, leaving unspoken the rest of the well-known saying, “go I.” And that, he said, “is something that we all have to think about.” All true, but most Americans can’t picture themselves behind bars as easily as Mr. Obama. In his autobiography, “The Dreams of My Father,” the president said he partook of cocaine and marijuana during his college years. Could that be why he so readily identifies with felons?
The president seems to lack similar sympathy for the victims of gun violence and their families. Quick to seize upon tragic massacres like Sandy Hook to advance his case for new gun control measures, he is strangely reticent about the everyday murders that bedevil the lives of the poor – particularly black and Hispanic poor – in Mr. Obama’s various hometowns, such as Chicago.
The Chicago Tribune reports that 99 persons were shot during the past week, 24 of them fatally. The president takes pains to point out that violent crime is still lower than it was 20 years ago, but in Chicago that’s no longer true. Inner-city residents in particular can only despair when Mr. Obama throws open the prison doors.
There’s an important place for sentencing reform. Mandatory minimums of 5, 7, 10 and 30 years for brandishing or firing a gun during a drug-trafficking crime or crime of violence sound reasonable. But those sentences can also be applied when a gun is not used but simply turns up in the home of a drug-dealer. Congress should consider legislation allowing judicial discretion in cases in which there is no overt threat from a gun, as advocated by Families Against Mandatory Minimums.
This guest editorial was written and published by The Washington Times.
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