Guns n' Presidents n' Threats

I’ve heard about the incident outside the White House yesterday on the radio (which is also covered in this thread). Now, I know that he Secret Service takes their job pretty seriously. The specifics of this incident made me wonder about some more general questions, for example:

  1. Are there greater restrictions on or penalties for carrying weapons outside the White House than other public places in DC?

  2. Are there greater penalties for threatening the President than for threatening a private citizen?

  3. Is there a combination of 1 and 2? I mean, if someone is carrying a gun outside the White House and his actions can be construed as threatening to the President, then will he get the book thrown at him?

  4. Are threats involving the President prosecuted more seriously than other cases?

  1. I would think not. But I don’t know that. You are either allowed to carry or you are not. (You did specify outside the WhiteHouse.)

  2. Yes. It is a felony to threaten the president. It is, at most, a misdemeanor, to threaten the average citizen. (This can vary according to stipulations of “menacing” or appearing to have the means to carry out the threat and the intent to do so, however, for most “simple” threats, it is a greatercrime to direct them at the president.)

  3. Without knowing 1) for sure, I won’t speculate.

  4. I’m not sure what you mean “prosecuted more seriously,” but if you are not actually menatlly impaired, I doubt that you should bother trying a plea bargain if you have threatened the president.

From Department of Justice statistics:

Threats Against the President

Number of Suspects in Criminal Matters Concluded:
1988 108
1989 118
1990 102
1991 130
1992 88
1993 108

Number of Suspects Prosecuted in U.S. District Court (/% prosecuted/% convicted):
1988 46 / 42.6% / 65.9%
1989 51 / 43.2% / 68.8%
1990 39 / 38.2% / 61.1%
1991 39 / 30.0% / 52.9%
1992 33 / 37.5% / 63.5%
1993 29 / 26.9% / 60.9%

Of those convicted in U.S. Disctrict Court, % sentenced to prison/mean length of sentence (in months)/average time served before release (in months)

1988 78.6% / 44.1 / 26.6
1989 93.9% / 35.9 / 23.7
1990 86.4% / NA / 21.0
1991 NA / NA / 23.9
1992 84.5% / NA / 30.8
1993 78.6% / 18.6 / 21.6
I could only find numbers for 1982 so I can’t compare to previous years, but all of these numbers were lower (frequently much lower) than 1982.

In 1997, 87 prisoners entered federal prisons for threats against the president with another 67 in '98, so it looks like prosecutions have gone up again.

Interpret these numbers as you will but the Feds certainly seem to take threats against the president seriously. I don’t have numbers for how threats against mere mortals are handled, but I have to think that prosecution rates are nowhere near 40% and mean prison sentences are nowhere near 2-3 years. One indicator that strikes me is the conviction rates. My experience is limited (an I am not a lawyer), but a 60% conviction rate seems awfully low; might that be a sign that perhaps DOJ prosecutors are a littl too eager to prosecute?

How about this thought, Obfusciatrist? Perhaps the Department of Justice knows well enough that they will not get a huge rate of conviction, and almost- ALMOST- doesn’t care. The public perception of the law is that if you do indeed make a threat against a President ( I dunno about the statutes for Non-Sitting Presidents, so I’m just addressing a Sitting President here), you will go to jail for a long time. Period.

If the agressive prosecution of people who violate that statute doesn’t result in huge convictions, it’s of minor consequence. We all hear about the arrests. Nobody hears about the convictions (unless it is a very high profile case, the Sarah Jane Moores and John Hinckleys of our world), most of us believe that in a case like that, the person is truly guilty and will pay.

I’m not in any way commenting on the under-,non-, or over-zealousness of Justice Department Officers. They are enforcing the laws of the land. I just think that the arrest numbers are the ones that the Government wishes us to keep firmly in mind.


I don’t know, Cartooniverse, one of the numbers I didn’t post were the number of cased that terminated because the Feds declined to prosecute.

I’m not going to go find them again, but it was something like 40% of the the cases initiated. 40% of those cases where the FBI or Secret Service (or whoever) arrested someone and charges were filed, the DOJ decided not to prosecute.

Now, the assumption I was making was that the conviction rates for “Threats against the President” were lower than other violent crime categories.

If that is the case, it it seems to that it means the Feds are pressing cases that aren’t as strong as usual and I would read that as a sign of aggressive prosecution. They already are getting the arrests that make for good PR, and they already throw out a high percentage of cases. I don’t see them pursuing losing cases unless they were taking it very seriously. But that is just my extrapolation from a set of numbers. I have no idea how well it reflects reality.

Of course, if the numbers are lower than other categories it means nothing of the sort.

IIRC, the D of C is under one of, if not THE, most restrictive gun control law in the USA, and an ordinary civilian is not supposed to pack heat anywhere in the jurisdiction (tell that to the guys down in SouthEast for a laugh)