Do Obama's Prison Sentence Commutations Conflict With His Gun Control Agenda?

Posted: Aug 31, 2016 4:00 PM

Editors Note: This piece was authored by Editorial Intern Gabriella Muñoz.

President Obama has broken another record. By shortening 111 sentences on Tuesday, August now has the highest number of commutations – 325 – ever granted in one month period. He will leave office with a legacy of commuting the most sentences in the past decade. As of now he has 400 more than the runner up, Lyndon B. Johnson.

While this must come as good news for those 111 prisoners and their families, is it good news for the rest of us?

Approximately 80 out of the 111 convicts – 72 percent – were sentenced for “intent to distribute” cocaine, 12 for methamphetamine, and 17 for other drugs. Out of those, 16 arrests included charges for firearms, four for “continuing criminal enterprise”, and three for parole violations (including a firearm violation).

The fact that the vast majority of the prisoners’ charges included cocaine should be concerning. In high doses, paranoia and “bizarre, erratic, and violent behavior” are among the mentally debilitating short term side effects. Long term use of the drug can bring about sensitization which means that “less cocaine is needed to produce anxiety, convulsions, or other toxic effects.” The government’s drug abuse site also notes that long term use leads to a higher chance of relapse “even following long periods of abstinence.”

If the chemical addiction wasn’t enough – the money might be. In a detailed report on the international drug business, PBS’ Frontline noted that “processes cocaine is available in Colombia for $1500 dollars per kilo and sold on the streets of America for as much as $66,000.”

The combination of high risk of relapse and a booming business in a still-recovering economy – doesn’t set the best conditions for success in staying clean.

Back in 2001, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a special report on firearm use in crimes that stated eight percent of drug offenses included a firearm. That was 15 years ago – long before we were diagnosed with firearm fever.

Pro and anti-gun activists alike can all agree: mind-altering substances and guns shouldn’t mix.

In a personal letter to each of the 111 prisoners President Obama wrote,

“The power to grant pardons and clemency is one of the most profound authorities granted to the President of the United States. It embodies the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance after having made a mistake in their lives that led to a conviction under our laws...remember you have the capacity to make good choices.”

Now, I agree with President Obama that our criminal justice system should not only be a place of punishment, but of reformation. I agree that America is a land that embodies redemption. I agree that all people can find a good path in life.

But for a man who is so staunchly against gun violence is it really wise to commute these sentences – especially those with repeated violations or those which involved a firearm?